The ability to speed read is something that many people aspire to, yet only a few truly master . Reading will remain a necessity regardless of the form and format of writing. If you want to master this art (and actually understand and remember what you read), look no further than the following tips and tricks.
What does speed reading mean?
Unless you have some kind of reference, you can’t tell how fast you read. So for your reference:
- An average reading speed is between 200 and 400 words per minute
- A speed-reader claims to be able to read anything in between 1000 and 1700 words per minute
Most people are average because the brain follows certain steps during reading: it literally reads the word; it runs a phonetic analysis, it generates an image in our heads, associated to that word. In scientific terms, reading involves the following stages:
- Fixation – it takes ¼ second for the eye to fixate a specific word from the written sentence
- Saccade – it takes 1/10 second for the eye to switch to the next fixation
- Comprehension – it takes up to ½ second for the brain to analyze all the fixations and process information
Problem is, we weren’t trained to do all these very fast, and each stage takes time. Yet reading alone, slower or faster, isn’t exactly ingrained in our DNA. After all, humanity developed language about 150,000 – 50,000 years ago. As for the alphabet as an invention, it’s barely 5,000 years old. Still, we managed to develop reading technology to unthinkable levels in a very short time. So people come and tell you that you can read faster. Not two, not even three or four, but five times faster than you currently do!
Is it possible? Obviously, there are ways to test it.
Is there anything scientific backing to these claims? You bet there is…
The Science of Speed Reading
‘Speed reading’ refers to a body of reading methods designed to increase the rate at which the brain processes the written word. Naturally, the goal is to maintain retention and comprehension. By mastering such techniques, one would be able to absorb information faster, improving efficiency and productivity. Everyone reads daily, so speed reading could bring benefits not just at the workplace, but also in the daily life.
Did you know the brain reads words as a whole, not letter by letter? In this way, it only takes into consideration a few key elements – the first and the last letter – and it simply guesses the word. It can do this because of context. The brain can guess what the next word should be, even if the other letters in the word are mixed up.
“This evinedce is sutasneid by the Unsitveriy Of Cagmibrde. The sutdy conutdced there proevd that as lnog as the fisrt and the lsat lteter are in the rihgt pacle, evyertihng esle can be mipslaced. The brian wlil flil in the dtos.”
Research allowed us to identify some average reading rates for:
- Memorization: under 100 words per minute
- Learning: between 100 and 200 words per minute
- Comprehension: between 200 and 400 words per minute
- Skimming: between 400 and 700 words per minute
In order to overcome these boundaries, one would have to apply certain techniques such as:
When you read, you can literally hear the words in your head. That is an imagined pronunciation or speaking without any kind of lip or facial movements. It is generally perceived as sub-vocalization, but scientists call it rauding. Rauding is a combo of read words and audio, translated into biological signals. Even when you sub-vocalize, the brain processes the words and sends some signals or impulses to the tongue and to the vocal chords.
All these indicate that as long as you sub-vocalize:
- Your reading speed is close to the speaking speed
- The more complicated words you encounter, the longer it takes to read and the more complex the biological signals are
- If you try to increase the reading speed in the detriment of sub-vocalization, chances are you will retain and comprehend less
However, practice will help you retain more while you read faster. Speed reading classes all promise you to achieve this ability up to the point where you won’t be sub-vocalizing at all.
Mastering Right-Eye Movement Techniques
Eye movement techniques vary, but they all imply processing words in bulk instead of reading them one by one. As you read, your eyes run from one word to another, fixing some of them and skipping others. The problem is that you can only read when your eyes stop (the fixation stage). Since you cannot eliminate this stage, you will have to cover more words at once, make fewer movements, and fewer stops.
Normally, your brain gets to decide how far to move the eyes. And it makes this decision depending on how familiar and how long the next words looks. Your challenge is to curtail this instinctual behavior and decide for yourself how far you want the next stop to be.
Grab a pen and paper and try this exercise:
- Put your paper over a specific text line and mark an x on that paper above the first word
- Mark another x further down the line, above the third word, above the fifth word and above the seventh word
- Then try to read fast while moving the paper from one text line to another – focus your eyes exclusively below each of the marked X
This test should help you gradually train your stops. The X following the first 3 words is for reading at a pace that allows good understanding. The one from the fifth word is for easy texts that don’t require much processing. But the one from the seventh word is for the skimming technique – regardless how complicated your text is, you’ll have to read it in 7 words chunks.
Additionally, you could try to:
- Read back and forth
- Scan the page for visual meaning clues (also called skimming)
- Use visual guiding with a pen or any other pointer to make the eye move faster (also called meta guiding)
- Read several lines of text at once.
These techniques are intended to help you cover more text faster. Nevertheless, if you want to understand and retain something, you need to also make time for comprehension.
Super Simple Shortcuts for Speed Reading
If you are not planning to attend speed reading contests, you could try some simpler shortcuts:
• Make a sketch, even a mental one, with titles and subtitles
• For each section, skip the middle – scan the beginning and the end of that section
• Underline relevant words or phrases that you encounter
• Skip the graphic elements on the first pass (photos, charts, diagrams, etc.)
• Set up your own symbols to mark specific sequences (definitions, quotes, statistics, etc.)
• Try to track your reading speed
• Set some goals and try to reach them with every new speed reading exercise
• Grab a pen and slide it along the lines with the speed you would like to read – adjust speed if you can’t keep up with it.
Interesting Facts about Speed Reading
Did you know that English readers have limits on how much they can cover with their eyes? If you stop on one letter, you can also grasp up to eight other letters to the right and only four other letters to the left. On average, you can cover two, even three words at once. Everything else can be noticed but not clearly read. Your goal will, therefore, be to read words from multiple lines, and still understand what you read.
You might think that normal people start reading and don’t stop until the end, but they do have a tendency for back-skipping and for regression. Back-skipping is when you aren’t paying attention to what you read and you end up rereading particular sentences through misplaced fixations. Regression is when you deliberately decide to go back and reread something for a better understanding. Together, these two can take you up to 30% of the time you spend reading. Reducing them should also help you read faster.