Speed reading — Wikipedia
Speed reading is any of several techniques used to improve one’s ability to read quickly. Speed reading methods include chunking and minimizing subvocalization. The many available speed reading training programs include books, videos, software, and seminars. There is scientific controversy surrounding the domain of speed reading.
Psychologists and educational specialists working on visual acuity used a tachistoscope to conclude, that with training, an average person could identify minute images flashed on the screen for only one five-hundredth of a second (2 ms). Though the images used were of airplanes, the results had implications for reading.
It was not until the late 1950s that a portable, reliable, and convenient device would be developed as a tool for increasing reading speed. Evelyn Wood, a researcher and schoolteacher, was committed to understanding why some people were naturally faster at reading and tried to force herself to read very quickly. In 1958, while brushing off the pages of a book she had thrown down in despair, she discovered that the sweeping motion of her hand across the page caught the attention of her eyes, and helped them move more smoothly across the page. She then used the hand as a pacer. Wood first taught the method at the University of Utah, before launching it to the public as Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics in Washington, D.C. in 1959.
Skimming and scanning
Skimming is a process of speed reading that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues to the main idea or when reading an essay, it can mean reading the beginning and ending for summary information, then optionally the first sentence of each paragraph to quickly determine whether to seek still more detail, as determined by the questions or purpose of the reading.
Learn How To Speed Read — Brain Health | Personal Development
To get through a set amount of information, knowing that you are going to be tested on it, is not a fun way to spend time. However, by improving your speed reading skills you will find that you can get through text quicker while maintaining the same level of comprehension – or better! Why not learn how to speed read?
Learn How To Speed Read
It is a common misconception that fast reading leads to lower concentration levels and retention of information. In fact, it is the opposite that is true – by reading slowly, you encourage your brain to slow down and comprehend less. It has been proven that the faster we read, the higher the motivation of the reader; words seem more important as they pass by, and our brains donate more resources to concentration.
Every reader already uses one speed reading skill or another to different degrees. The brain wants to get through information quickly – the way we’ve been taught to read each syllable at a time slows us down. Once you have learnt and mastered the following skills, you’ll find that reading faster feels even more natural than how you’ve been doing it your whole life!
The first step is to calculate your current reading speed. Select a book, preferably one you’ve not read before. Set a timer for two minutes and begin reading. Don’t try to read quickly, just go at your normal pace. Once the timer sounds, mark your beginning and end points, then count how many words are found on a single given line. Multiple this by however many lines you have read, and divide by two to get the total of words you read per minute. Set this number aside for later comparison. For reference, the average reader takes in 200 – 240 words per minute. Let’s see if we can improve that!
1. Get Friendly With Your Text
Flick through the text you’ll be studying and get accustomed to its layout, colors, font size, and paragraphing. Stop every now and then to read a few lines that interest you, and pay attention to any diagrams. This prepares your brain for study, and spikes your interest in the material, even if you’ve read the text before.
Regular users of the Internet have naturally improved their skimming abilities, and instinctively flick their eyes over large amounts of information to scan for relevant or interesting content. This skill can be applied to study texts and is the first step in Speed Reading.
Before you begin, identify what it is you want to learn from the text. Then glance over the pages and look for it. By allowing yourself to skim content, you will generally be reading headings, subheadings, the first lines of each paragraph, and the bottom of the page. This is ideal, as these places are where the more useful information is generally found, compacted into easily understood statements. Once you’ve identified where the answers to your questions might be, skim over those areas in greater detail!
This method results in better retention, as the brain isn’t overloaded with useless facts or boredom. Connections are quickly made between new information and known information, which activates the memory banks and makes recall quicker in the future.
How To Speed Read & Comprehend — Block Reading
Speed reading is more than moving your eyes more quickly. It requires an intuitive and strategic approach to process information more efficiently. These intermediate techniques will further improve your reading speed while maintaining comprehension.
Table Of Contents
- The Blinking Method | Force yourself to read with a wider focus area by blinking between focus points.
- Block Reading | Strategically read in blocks of a certain width.
- Eliminate Backtracking | Break the habit of reactively re-reading text, instead, re-read paragraphs.
- Adaptive Speed Reading | Learn to gauge the importance and difficulty of any text quickly and adapt your reading speed accordingly.
- Don’t Multi-task | Don’t. This includes listening to music with lyrics.
Have you ever noticed that you can read multi-word headers of text like street signs and book titles instantly, but you read books one word at a time?
Narrow focusWide focus
This phenomenon can be attributed to the width of your focus area. As you can see in the images above, a narrow focus results in a small area of coverage, while a wide focus results in a larger area of coverage. When we are scanning for something, we do so with a wide focus in order to cover the largest amount of space in the least amount time. When we read, we use a much more narrow focus in order to pick up all the minor details. However, your ability to scan multiple words simultaneously when reading street signs and headers proves that you don’t necessarily need to read with a narrow focus all the time.
As you continue to increase your reading speed, you will quickly realize that you can no longer afford to focus on each individual word. In fact, at some point, you won’t be able to stay on any one word long enough to allow your eyes to focus, causing you to read at a slightly unfocused state. This will occur naturally with practice, but one way to speed up the process is by using blinks to reset your eye’s focus.
2. Block Reading
Block reading is when you read multiple words in “blocks” of a set width. So, instead of this:
One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.
You read like this:
One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.
Tip: Try blinking between each block!
But, block reading works best when combined with selective reading, so it will ultimately look like this:
One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.
The width of each block will depend on your ability, but a good starting point would be ~3 words length per block, but with practice you’ll be able to increase it to 4 or 5 words!
3. Eliminate Backtracking
Backtracking is when you go back to re-read something you thought you missed. It seems like common sense to go back and re-read something you missed, but it can actually have a net negative impact on your comprehension. Here’s why:
- It’s a huge waste of time – In the time it takes you to go back and re-read a sentence, you could have read two more.
- It ruins your train of thought – Stopping mid-sentence to read a fraction of it again will break your momentum. That’s why backtracking once usually leads to backtracking again, and again.
- You usually don’t need to – Oftentimes the information in the next sentence will put it in context and help you recall what you might have missed.
Admittedly, there are times when backtracking is necessary, but instead of backtracking every individual sentence, there is another alternative.
Experienced readers backtrack far less often than typical readers do, but when they do, they make it count.
Instead of backtracking on a per-sentence basis, backtrack at the paragraph level. This means completing the rest of the paragraph before backtracking the whole paragraph. In this way, you will not only have a better understanding of the entire paragraph, but you will be able to speed read the whole thing without any obstructions.
4. Adaptive Speed Reading
Experienced speed readers constantly adapt their reading speed to match the importance and difficulty of the content. Difficult content requires a slower reading speed, while simple content can be read much more quickly. Even within a the same page, some paragraphs can be read at 500 wpm others may require that you slow down to 250 wpm.
While reading, continually ask yourself:
- How important is this?
- How difficult is this?
- Is this information really necessary?
- Should I skim this now and review it later?
If it’s important or difficult, you should slow down appropriately. If it’s unimportant, you can either skim it or skip it entirely.
5. Don’t Multi-task
Multi-tasking that includes any high-function activities inevitably has a negative affect on the main activity. It is possible to multi-task several low-function activities, but not with high-function activities like reading.
In particular, make sure to avoid things that involve human speech. Music with lyrics, though not quite as distracting as a person speaking to you, engages your brain in a similar way (i.e. it causes your brain to process words, which interferes with reading). If you need to listen to music, make sure it’s ambient, orchestral, or something else that doesn’t have lyrics.
Read Part 3 of Speed Reading
I Was Wrong About Speed Reading: Here are the Facts
Seven years ago, I read some books and articles on speed reading and started practicing some of the methods. I found I was able to increase my reading speed from 450 word per minute to 900 in the drills, so I published an article entitled, Double Your Reading Rate, which has since become one of the most popular on this website.
When I wrote the piece, I based the article purely on my personal experience along with the how-to books I had read. I didn’t have any solid scientific research to back my experiments.
Since that time, I’ve had some lingering doubts about speed reading. In addition to seeing some flickers of research that made me suspicious about speed reading programs, I had mostly stopped using the techniques I originally advocated. My reading diet had switched from lighter self-help, to denser and more academic writing. That meant comprehension, not speed, was the bottleneck I was trying to improve.
Now, nearly a decade later, I decided to do some in-depth research into speed reading to bring you the facts.
Is It Possible to Read 20,000+ Words Per Minute?
Some speed reading claims can be tossed aside immediately. Claims that you can read a book as fast as you can flip through a phone book are completely impossible on anatomical and neurological levels.
First we have anatomical reasons to throw out absurdly high reading rates. In order to read, the eye has to stop at a part of the text, this is called fixation. Next, it must make a quick movement to the next fixation point, this is called a saccade. Finally, after you jump a few points, the brain has to assemble all this information so you can comprehend what you’ve just seen.
Eye-movement expert Keith Raynor, argues that even going beyond 500 words per minute is improbable because the mechanical process of moving your eye, fixing it and processing the visual information can’t go much faster than that.
Speed reading experts claim that they can work around this problem by taking in more visual information in each saccade. Instead of reading a couple words in one fixation, you can process multiple lines at a time.
This is unlikely for two reasons. One, the area of the eye which can correctly resolve details, called the fovea, is quite small—only about an inch in diameter at reading distance. Processing more information per fixation is limited by the fact that our eyes are rather poor lenses. They need to move around in order to get more details. This means that eyes are physically constrained in the amount of information they achieve per fixation.
Second, working memory constraints are at least as important as anatomical ones. The brain can hold around 3-5 “chunks” of information at a time. Parsing multiple lines simultaneously, means that each of these threads of information must remain open until the line is fully read. This just isn’t possible with our limited mental RAM.
What about systems like Spritz? Spritz works by trying to avoid the problem of saccades. If each word appears in the same place on the screen, your eye can stay fixed on that point while words flip through more quickly than you could hunt them down on a page. Indeed, using the application gives a strong impression that you can read very quickly.
Their website claims to have research showing faster reading speeds, but unfortunately I was not able to find any independent, peer-reviewed work substantiating these claims.
Working memory constraints here too, enforce a limit on the upper speed you could use Spritz and still be considered to be “reading” everything. Remember reading was a three step process: fixate, saccade and process. Well that processing step slows down regular reading too. If there are no pauses in the stream of words, there isn’t enough time to process them and they fall out of working memory before they’re comprehended.
Is It Possible to Make Moderate Speed Gains Through Training?
The evidence is clear: anything above 500-600 words per minute is improbable without losing comprehension. Even my own perceived gain of 900 word per minute meant that I was probably losing considerable comprehension. This was masked because the books I was reading had enough redundancy to make following along possible with impaired comprehension.
However, according to Raynor, the average college-educated reader only reads at 200-400 words per minute. If 500-600 words forms an upper bound, that does suggest that doubling your reading rate is possible, albeit as a hard upper limit. Can we still get moderate speed reading gains?
There seems to be some mild evidence here in favor of speed reading. One study of a course had some students quadruple their speed. Another study showed some speed reading experts reading around the 600 word per minute level, roughly twice as fast as a normal reader.
However there’s a trap here. Speed reading may possibly make you a faster reader, but it’s not clear the speed reading techniques are the cause. Second, speed reading trainees tended to read faster, with less comprehension, than non-speed readers. Since measuring comprehension is more difficult than speed, I believe many new speed readers can fall into the trap I did: believing they’re making an unqualified doubling of their reading rate, when in reality, they are doing so at a significant tradeoff of comprehension.
Do Speed Reading Techniques Work?
If the evidence suggests that reading faster may be possible, albeit more modestly, it casts a much harsher light on certain speed reading dogma. The most dangerous is the idea that subvocalization should be avoided to read faster.
Subvocalization is the little inner voice you have when reading that speaks the words aloud. When you started reading you probably spoke out loud with that voice, but you learned to silence it as you got older. If you turn your attention to it, however, you can still hear yourself making the sounds of the words in your head.
Speed reading experts claim that subvocalization is the bottleneck that slows down your reading. If you can learn to just recognize words visually without saying them in your inner voice, you can read much faster.
Here the evidence is clear: subvocalization is necessary to read well. Even expert speed readers do it, they just do it a bit faster than untrained people do. We can check this because that inner voice sends faint communication signals to the vocal cords, as a residue of your internal monolog, and those signals can be measured objectively.
It’s simply not possible to comprehend what you’re reading and avoid using that inner voice. So reading faster means being able to use this inner voice faster, not eliminating it. To further that, expert speed readers who were studied also subvocalized, they just did it faster.
The other main recommendation I made in my speed reading article was using a pointer. This means moving your finger or a pen to underline the text as you read it. This technique is supposed to help you make eye fixations and reduce the random wandering of the eye which can waste time. One study suggests that this apparent function isn’t realized, and that the pointer functions as a pacing device, while actual eye fixations are uncorrelated with pointer or hand movements.
If You Shouldn’t Speed Read, How Should You Read Better and Faster?
In my research for this article, I did find a couple factors that were associated with better reading speed, without sacrificing comprehension. None of these are magic fixes for your reading woes, but a mild treatment that works is better than a fantastic one which doesn’t.
Reading Tip #1: Skim Before You Read
Many speed reading courses are actually teaching skimming techniques, even if they package it as “reading” faster. Skimming is covering the text too fast to read everything fully. Instead, you’re selectively picking up parts of the information.
Skimming, isn’t actually a bad method, provided it’s used wisely. One study found that skimming a text before going on to reading it, improved comprehension in the majority of cases.
Reading Tip #2: Improve Your Fluency to Improve Your Speed
Fluent recognition of words was one of the major slowing points for readers. Subvocalization, that mythical nemesis of speed readers, is slower on unfamiliar words. If you want to speed up reading, learning to recognize words faster seems to improve your reading speed.
Fluency isn’t just an issue for reading in your non-native language. It also matters for technical documents or prose which uses unfamiliar vocabulary. If I’m reading a text that uses jargon like mRNA, or obscure words like synecdoche, I’m going to pause longer. That will slow my reading speed down.
The best way to improve fluency is to read more. If you read more of a certain type of text, you’ll learn those words faster and read better. If you’re a non-native or fluency significantly impacts your reading speed, then even a tool like Anki may be useful for learning hard words.
Reading Tip #3: Know What You Want, Before You Read It
Part of the reason skimming first might appear to help is that it allows you to map out a document. Knowing how an article or book is structured, then, allows you to pay more attention to the things you think are important.
Another tip offered in a lot of speed reading courses, which is likely good advice, is to know what you’re trying to get out of a text before you read it. Thinking about this before you start reading allows you to prime yourself to pay attention when you see words and sentences that are related. Even if you’re reading at a speed which has some comprehension loss, you’ll be more likely to slow down at the right moments.
This isn’t always possible. I read a lot of books unsure about what I want to discover in them. Fiction and reading for pleasure can’t be reduced to a mission objective. However a lot of bland, necessary reading in our lives fits this type. Speeding it up might be worthwhile if it leaves us more time for reading with curiosity.
Reading Tip #4: Deeper Processing Tasks to Improve Retention
Sometimes you don’t want speed at all—you want near full comprehension. When I was in school, I needed to read most textbooks in a way that I could retain nearly every fact and idea I encountered later. It’s not just full comprehension you want, but long-term memory of the information.
Here cognitive science offers some suggestions. A principle of memory is that we remember what we think about. So if you want to remember the ideas of a book, highlighting bolded passages isn’t the best idea. Highlighting causes you to think about bolded words, not what they means.
Some alternatives are taking paraphrased, sparse notes or rewriting factual information you want to remember as questions to self-quiz later.
I was wrong. Subvocalization shouldn’t be avoided. Doubling your reading rate may be possible from a lower range (250 to 500 words per minute, for example), but it’s probably impossible to go beyond 500-600 words and still get full retention. Speed reading may have some redemption as an alternative to skimming text, but even here the benefits come from how speed readers conceptually organize the text, and not on the mechanics of eye movements.
In terms of accuracy, my original article hasn’t aged too well. In my more recent courses, I still teach speed-reading, but I had already shifted mostly to the speed-reading-as-intelligent-skimming paradigm which is a bit more defensible. Still, I’ll be sure to include this research in any new courses I develop.
I apologize to any readers who may have gotten outsized hopes about what speed reading could accomplish. My goal, as always, isn’t to present a fixed dogma of what it takes to learn better, but to research and experiment with new ideas. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s a path that dead-ends or winds back on itself. In any case, I’ll always do my best to share whatever I find with you.
Learn How to Speed Read
Most people can benefit from learning how to speed read. Slow reading is a problem for many children and adults, and it can be a big handicap in the modern world. As the internet becomes a part of our daily lives, and to navigate it successfully, people need to be fast and efficient readers. Fortunately, there are several different ways that you can naturally increase your reading speed. When your reading environment is just right, you will be able to read much faster. You can further increase your speed by practicing visual focusing techniques, as well as eliminating subvocalization. Reading faster can also increase your comprehension, making you not only faster, but a better reader.
In order to make the most of your reading time, try to find a place to read that is quiet and free from distractions. If there are a lot of people around, traffic, or noise, you will not be able to focus as much. Each distraction can break up the stream of information that your brain is receiving as you read. Make sure you are comfortable, and not too hot or too cold. Sit in a comfortable position, and try to sit with good posture so that you can breath properly.
You can naturally increase the speed you read printed words by following the words with your finger. This can help focus your eyes and reduce the number of time you reread part of a sentence. However, this technique is not effective on a computer screen. If you are just trying to speed read books, newspapers, or magazines, this method will probably increase your reading speed. If you do most of your reading on a computer screen, you will have to learn some other methods.
There are exercises that can help widen your field of vision. Right now you probably focus on each word in a sentence. You can begin widening your field of vision by practicing taking in two words at a time without moving your eyes. Printed flashcards can help with this, start with cards with two words printed in the middle, and try to read both words without shifting your eyes back and forth. When you can do two words, move on to cards with three words. Keep going until you can take in an entire line of text without moving your eyes back and forth.
When you subvocalize, you say all the words out loud inside your head. This slows your reading speed down dramatically. Very slow readers may even move their lips when they read. If you can reduce or eliminate subvocalization, you can read faster than your brain can pronounce each word.
Studies have shown that when people try to consciously speed up their reading, they understand and remember more of what they read. This is because the brain is allowed to understand the entire idea as a whole, instead of in parts. Many people try to practice reading faster, but slow down as they get absorbed in the book and forget to practice their techniques. There is speed reading software that can help readers practice while reminding them of the techniques they have learned.
Free Speed Reading Course | Comprehend Faster, To Read Faster
Strengthen your concentration, improve your comprehension, and become truly immersed in your reading, by giving your brain what it craves the most; visual and conceptual images.
With barely a half hour of practice for the next 12 days, you can double your reading speed, while improving comprehension.
You can’t read faster just by pushing your speed, or by doing eye exercises, or by stopping subvocalizing. That’s because what’s sabotaging your reading speed is poor concentration and focus.
Reading without sharply concentrated mental focus is like trying to read with poor eyesight. However, in this case, your eyes may be reading ok — but it’s your «mind’s eye» that cannot properly focus.
This one trick is the key to reading faster. Phrase-reading is not just reading random word-chunks, but meaningful «idea chunks.»
When you focus your attention on these larger ideas instead of words, the ideas seem to just leap off the page into your mind.
Your Own Text
ReadSpeeder includes a library of over 500 practice books, but you can also copy and paste your own text to use as lessons.
This means you can practice with whatever text you were going to read anyway. And teachers; you can use any reading material you think is most appropriate and interesting for your students.
Oh yes, and it’s (still) FREE!
Why Free? Because we want to use your experience, progress, and feedback to make ReadSpeeder as effective as possible.
And with over 90,000 registered users, we’ve already had the chance to develop this software into something truly remarkable… but we’re not done yet!.
Haven’t you spent enough time with your old slow, boring reading? It’s time for a change. It’s time to Start Now!
How To Speed Read & Comprehend — Part 1
How would your life change if you could read twice as fast? Undoubtedly, your academic, professional and personal life will greatly improve. Learn these basic speed reading techniques to start your journey towards doubling or tripling your reading speed.
Table Of Contents
- Skip Small Words | Read short words with your peripheral vision.
- Optimize Reading Conditions | Read from an optimal distance, optimize lighting and stand up.
- Warm Up | Make sure you’re in a high energy state when you read.
- The Pointer Method | Use your finger or a pen to force your eyes to follow at a faster rate.
- Embedded Dictionaries | Install pop-up dictionaries into your browser for on-the-spot lookups.
Measure Your Reading Speed
In order to measure any improvement in reading speed, you’ll first need to take a speed reading test.
Take Speed Reading Test
You can come back here to re-test at any time.
1. Skip Small Words
Each word requires a different amount of time to process. In fact, some words are so intuitive, they can be skipped without losing the meaning of the sentence. Most native English readers do this instinctively to some degree, but this technique can be improved through practice. To understand how this works, read the following paragraph, but focus only on the red words.
Not every word is equally as important. Some words are critical to the sentence and cannot be removed, while others can be removed without much loss in meaning. One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.
Notice how you still managed to pick up the unimportant words without looking directly at them? That’s because they require so little processing power to comprehend that you can still read them without looking at them directly.
Counter-intuitively, selective reading can increase your comprehension, because you spend a proportionately greater amount of time on the important words.
This is the same logic that is applied to writing newspaper headlines. Newspaper publishers make headlines catchy by condensing the important words and stripping out the unimportant minor words.
2. Optimize Reading Conditions
Optimize Reading Distance
Generally speaking, it is easier to speed read by increasing the distance between your eyes and the text. This is because:
- Your field of vision expands with distance, meaning you can fit more words can fit in your effective field of vision.
- Your eyes travel less, so you can cover a larger distance with less eye muscle usage.
Your field of view expands with distance
Note: Everyone’s optimal reading distance will be different depending on how near- or far-sighted they are.
Too little lighting will negatively affect your energy levels, while too much lighting will strain your eyes. Neither are ideal for speed reading. Sustained speed reading can only be achieved in an environment with good lighting. This includes:
- Natural off-white lighting
- No shadows or reflections over the text
- Even lighting across the room
- Sunny daytime level lighting
Standing promotes blood flow, which increases alertness and energy levels. It also engages all your limbs, making it a more engaging activity. Lastly, it isolates you from the distractions at the desk, as there is nothing within arm’s reach except the book or device you are reading from.
You don’t have to stand the entire time, but adding a little variety by standing for a few minutes during a prolonged reading session can do wonders.
3. Warm Up
Speed reading inherently requires you to be in a high-energy state. Therefore, like any intense activity, performance can be improved through a proper warm-up. It’s not only the mind that needs to be activated, but the body as well. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you do some light physical activity (walk, jog, stretch, etc.) before you start, as well as periodically between reading sessions. This ensures adequate oxygen and blood flow to the brain and eyes to maintain the high-energy state.
4. The Pointer Method
This is a great beginner technique to force your eyes to adapt to a faster reading speed.
- Grab a pen, chopstick or other thin stick-like object (your finger works too, but a pen works better because of its sharper tip)
- Trace under the words and let the tip guide your eyes. The pen is just a guide; don’t draw on the book.
- Trace at a pace that is ~10 to 20% faster than your typical reading speed. Continually push yourself by speeding up once you’ve adapted.
The pointer method has three distinct advantages:
- It ensures that you read at or near your current top speed
- It helps you maintain a consistent speed
- It reduces instances of you losing your place
If you’re the type that always seems to get distracted and lose your place in the text, the pointer method have a more meaningful impact on your reading speed.
5. Embedded Dictionaries
For some, in particular ESL students, the lack of vocabulary is a more significant contributor to slow reading rather than technique. The best way to overcome this issue is by using applications that allow you to instantly look up words and bookmark them for later review.
- Chrome – Google Dictionary
- Safari – Dictionary
- FireFox – Dictionary Pop-up
- Internet Explorer – Dictionary Reference
- Apple Macs – Right click (or 2-finger click) any word and select “Look Up in Dictionary”
- eBook Readers – Most modern eBook readers and eBook applications have built-in dictionaries. All you have to do is highlight the word in question.
Read Part 2 of Speed Reading