Tags Reading

While I was in the US, a commertial on the TV there got me into thinking - why won't I try to teach myself speed reading. I read quite a lot, and if with some exercise I could increase the speed of my reading without sacrificing comprehension, wouldn't that be great ?

So I bought a couple of books on the subject and started working through one of them a couple of days ago. In the beginning, they measure your reading speed and comprehension using a sample text. I average on about 290 wpm (words per minute) with 80% comprehension, which isn't bad considering that English is my 3rd language. The average for US university students is somewhere between 250 and 350 wpm.

The first book I started working with is called "Triple your reading speed". I will write a fuller review when I finish it, but generally it claims that whatever your reading speed is, you can easily triple it without sacrificing comprehension. The book has tons of sample texts with comprehension tests for measurement, and some useful tips on how to get rid of slow reading habits, along with 20 or so pages of eye-exercises that should (in theory) help reading faster.

I'm not sure how well I'm going yet - it takes more exercise to figure this out. What I noticed is that speed reading is typical pseudo-science. There are a lot of people and companies with wonderous offers out there in the Internet, and a lot of sceptics. BTW, whenever you approach a new subject, it is very important to thoroughly read the sceptics as well as proponents.

I see 2 kinds of speed-reading advertisers: there are people who claim anyone can reach speeds in the thousands of wpm. Well, I find this just impossible to believe, sorry. Such reading is called "skimming" - you don't really read the text, you skim through it intelligently, trying to gather as much as possible in a short time. While this may be beneficial in rare cases (like studying for an exam which is 3 hours away), I don't think it's applicable for "reading for enjoyment". One notable joke about this is "I've just finished reading War in Peace in 2 hours. It's something about Russia".

The other kind of speed-reaiding proponents pose more logical claims. They say one can comfortable improve reading speed to 500 - 900 wpm with full comprehension, by seriously investing in exercise of eye-training and getting rid of harmful practices. This I can believe, and the exercises in the book (and in online tutorials) are logical enough - I can see how my reading speed can improve by doing them. The exercises focus mainly on developing better peripheral vision, i.e. catching more words around the ones you're focusing your eyes on. Mechanics are inherently slow, and the brain is capable of catching concepts faster than the eyes can move, so this is quite beneficial. Another focus is getting rid of sub-vocalization (the urge to read "silently" hearing every word in your head) and get used to a better focus on the text (not letting your thoughts wander).

All in all, I'm still optimistic about this. I don't think I'll get to 1000+ wpm, because my goal in reading is first and foremost understanding and fun, but I believe I will be able to increase my speed to at least 500 - 600 wpm in reading novels and lighter material, without sacrificing comprehension. If this will allow me to get through more books in the same time, why not. I'm still sceptical about the ability to speed-read more difficult texts, though (and I mainly read non-fiction). Some concepts just take brain-time to grasp.


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