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Category: Reading

How Easy Is It To Start Speed Reading?

People often think about how much they could accomplish if only they could read faster. The idea of greatly increasing your reading speed is certainly tempting, which is why so many speed reading courses exist. While a poor reader may be able to significantly increase reading speed by eliminating bad habits, highly proficient readers are likely to find their reading speed is limited by human physiology. The ease with which you can start speed reading is therefore dependent upon your initial level of skill.

Maximum Speed

Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It by Mark Seidenberg provides some general figures on a person’s maximum reading speed. Humans can read a maximum of about eight letters per fixation, which we can do up to five times per second. This means we can read a maximum of 40 letters per second, or 2,400 letters per minute. Words have an average of five letters separated by a space, for a total of six words. That means the maximum reading speed is about 400 words per minute, assuming easy reading material with basic comprehension.

Skimming

The exact figures on reading speed aren’t particularly important. The point is, reading speed can’t be significantly increased above a certain limit without seriously sacrificing comprehension. Furthermore, that limit is much lower than the speed claimed by many self-professed speed readers. These people are generally skimming the material by only focusing on words they deem important, resulting in a speed that’s much higher than what should be possible. However, controlled tests usually show that speed readers have poor comprehension and even worse retention.

Practice

While reading faster than 300 to 400 words per minute without sacrificing comprehension isn’t really feasible, many people read more slowly than this. Regular practice is the key to increasing reading speed, especially if you aren’t as proficient at it as you could be. For example, skilled readers have greater background knowledge about the differences between written and spoken language. Acquiring this information requires you to read, as opposed to learning the various “tricks” of speed reading.

At a conscious level, reading is merely a means of understanding written text, whether it’s for education, entertainment or communication. Subconsciously, reading also helps you develop the elaborate knowledge of linguistics needed to read quickly. In addition to regular practice, you also need to read new material that contains new words or familiar words used in new ways. A large sample of genres and writing styles is therefore essential for improving your reading proficiency.

Summary

The idea that you can greatly increase your reading speed is generally a fallacy if you’re already a proficient reader. However, it is possible for regular reading to improve your speed over time, although this may be a slow process. Increasing your knowledge of written language is crucial for reaching the physiological limits of your reading speed.

How To Read For The Purposes of Study

Reading for enjoyment is very different than reading for the purposes of study. When you need to read something and really comprehend it, you need to employ a different strategy. Here’s how to read for the purposes of study.

First, have a highlighter pen ready. If you don’t want to use a highlighter, you can use a pen. Just make sure it’s in a contrasting color than the ink in the book. Use the highlighter or pen to highlight essential information. You can also use it to highlight something that you need to do further research on.

Next, don’t be afraid to write in the margins. Forget the old rule about never writing in a book. Remember when Harry Potter used Tom Riddle’s book in the Half Blood Prince? The margin notes made Harry Potter go to the top of his potions class. Margin notes can help you get an A in your college class, too.  Make all the margin notes you want to, and include questions if they might help you to go find more information about the subject.

If it helps, you should try reading the text aloud. Sometimes reading something out loud helps you retain the information better. You could even use a funny voice or an accent to help you get into the feeling of the text. Funny enough, this can help you to understand even better. You might want to ask your roommate to leave while you do it, though.

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Visualize what you just read. If you come across an abstract idea or something that’s hard to understand, visualize it. Put the book aside for a minute and try to picture what the author is saying. In many cases, pictures help us remember things better. Then, when it comes to getting tested on the material, you can just pull up that picture in your head to help you get a good grade.

Use your dictionary. Whenever you come across a word that you don’t know, don’t skim over it. Words are important. It’s essential that you understand all the words. Otherwise you might get the wrong meaning. If the sentence you’re reading has a word that you’re unfamiliar with, pause and look it up in the dictionary. Then go back and read the sentence again and make sure you really understand what it’s saying.

Use bookmarks. Another great way to read for the purposes of study is to use bookmarks. You don’t need a fancy bookmark. Just a small slip of paper will work. Insert a bookmark anyplace that’s really important, or in an area that you want to read again.

Finally, test yourself. After finishing a section or chapter, take a sheet of paper and jot down the key points. Then check to see if you’ve got them right.

Whether you’re reading to study for a college class, to pass an exam or to impress a client, these tips will help.