“You will get little or nothing from the printed page if you bring it nothing but your eye.” ― Walter B. Pitkin, Art of Rapid Reading

How Speed Reading Will Help You Get More Things Done

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This article will give you insights on speed reading. It includes: 1) introduction to speed reading, 2) methods of speed reading, 3) how to succeed in speed reading, 4) speed reading and comprehension, 5) tools and software available for improving speed reading skills, and 6) realistic view of speed reading.

INTRODUCTION TO SPEED READING

Speed reading is the ability to increase the rate at which an individual reads by using techniques and tools such as – apps, software, and programs. It has been observed that with proper training an individual can enhance the speed at which he/she reads with full comprehension. A school teacher and researcher Evelyn Wood was the first person to start teaching methods to increase reading speed. Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics was launched as the first technique to enhance reading speed. It involves training yourself to read several words and understand them at a glance, and to develop the capacity to read words not only horizontally but also vertically.

What is Speed Reading

The ability to read faster is a very important skill, especially for people who need to read a large amount of text every day, such as; students, editors, reading enthusiasts, etc. It allows the reader to grasp what is being read much faster and helps to cut down the time spent on reading and understanding the text. With speed reading, you can train yourself to stop vocalizing the words in your mind as you read, increase your comprehension and concentrate on what you are reading.

Speed reading involves the following skills:

  • Scanning /seeing: This is the most important skill of speed reading. This involves learning to search for relevant words in the text and not reading every single word of a sentence.
  • Reading: Read only the relevant sentence in a paragraph, especially if you are familiar with the topic. Stop vocalizing as you are reading. Vocalizing slows you down.
  • Comprehending: Reading involves comprehending and with speed reading your ability to comprehend is greatly enhanced as you read and comprehend several words at a time.
  • Concentrating: Concentration is the key to speed reading. It involves sustained concentration as you are doing several things at the same time, like seeing the words, looking for keywords, understanding the ideas contained in the text, etc.

Why it is Important to Learn Speed Reading

The most important reason to learn speed reading is because it helps you to read a lot more than you would be able to read normally. The average reading speed is supposed to be between 200 to 400 words per minute, with speed reading this capacity could be doubled in most cases to up to 600 words per minute with full comprehension. It saves time and improves comprehension as they are better able to grasp arguments and concepts presented in a piece of writing. This empowers you in your life and career. It enhances the ability to engage socially, as a speed reader reads a lot more than an average reader, is up to date on the news and views and has a lot more to add to a conversation. It helps with concentration and improves the memory as well as instills confidence and adds to your knowledge. It improves problem-solving skills, encourages innovation and helps to develop leadership qualities.

In short, it helps you in all spheres of your life, there is little in your life that is not touched by it. Speed reading can change your life and create opportunities for you.

METHODS OF SPEED READING

For some of us reading is an inevitable part of life and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Speed reading can help you keep up with your reading tasks easily if you learn to do it properly. While reading, most people look at a word or a group of words and register it into their mind, this is called fixation, before moving on to the next word, this is called saccade, till they come to the end of the sentence or paragraph and then they pause to comprehend what they have just read. Fixation, saccade, and comprehension are time-consuming but, with training in speed reading, you can greatly enhance your reading capacity. This is done by training your mind to reduce the amount of time needed for fixation, training your eye saccade faster, and forcing your mind to increase its ability to comprehend.

The fastest readers use methods that basically involve looking for keywords that contain the essence of a writing. The keywords may be scattered all over a paragraph, so they create a scatter pattern that conveys the meaning of the text to the reader. The average eye span is about 3 – 5 words both horizontally and vertically. As soon as the eye sees a word the brain starts the process of comprehending. Our brain’s capacity to fill in the details is great and this is what speed reading training teaches you to do, to pick out the most important parts and let the mind fill in the gaps for full comprehension.

When you begin training, one of the first thing you have to train yourself to do is to break the old habits of reading and inculcate new ones. This is normally done through training to avoid subvocalization, which is reading each word aloud in your mind. This is the way we are all taught to read while growing up. It is a useful skill if you wish to memorize or remember concepts but reduces your reading speed. So break the habit. Other habits that you may need to break are reading word for word, going back to a word you have already read, lack of concentration, and reading linearly.

There are methods or techniques that can help you to break the old habits and set you up on the path of speed reading. These include:

Skimming: This helps to familiarize you with the text and get a gist of its content. It involves scanning the text, highlighting what you deem as important. You do not need to read each word, just quickly go over the text stopping your eye only on the highlighted portions or graphics. This trains your eye to search for relevant parts and to skip over parts that are not important. This method of reading increases your speed, but it doesn’t help you to remember the details of the text. It is a method that is good for reading text or concepts with which you are already familiar.

Meta guiding: This is the method that was discovered by Evelyn Wood to improve reading speed. This technique involves using a visual guide or a pointer to enhance focus and assist eye movement. The simplest guide is your hand or figure with which you can trace the words as you read them. It guides your eyes effectively to the place where you are in the text and helps to increase reading speed. It is not essential that you have to use a linear movement to guide your eyes, any movement acts as a motion guide and helps you to focus. Other forms of meta guides could be a pen, pencil or a pacer. The pacer is a piece of paper or cardboard that can help guide your vision and also cover the words you have already read to reduce distraction and rereading.

Rapid Serial Visual Presentation: It is more popularly referred to as RSVP, is quickly going through a text to assess its content and value to you, as you do when riffling through a book that you may find of interest in a library or a magazine in a bookstore. It involves going through a text without any detectable pause. Typically, there is a pause of 10 milliseconds or less, between words or images. RSVP is used in many apps to train the eye to read quickly and to stop regression. It also helps in eliminating subvocalization and enhances concentration. This is the method that is most conducive for electronic media and is used by many of the speed reading apps available on the internet.

SQ3R: This method of speed reading that is highly conducive for textbook reading for students. It is a step wise method that teaches you the skills of reading and understand fast. The method involves five distinct steps which are:

  1. Survey: This involves looking over the text to see what it is about, how it is structured, pay attention to the headings and subheading, if there are any images charts or other graphical elements examine them and the captions underneath. Go over the summary, if there is one available, and read the introduction and conclusion of the text.
  2. Question: This step requires that you form questions about the text in your mind while you are surveying it. Do this especially with ideas or concepts that you require exploring within the text. Read all the questions that accompany the text, ask yourself what you know about the subject and what the lecturer said about it in class.
  3. Read: Read the text. While reading try finding answers to the questions that you had in the previous step. Answer the questions that accompany the text. When you come to a graphic, study it carefully and read the caption again. Notice the formatting of the text, pay attention to the bold, underlined or italicized text. Reduce your speed for difficult areas, and reread if there is something that is not clear. Read one section at a time.
  4. Recite: Once you have read a section, recite it. Try in your own words, and answer your own questions. Take notes and write them down, highlight parts of the text that you think are important.
  5. Review: Take another survey of the text, and look over your answers, notes, etc.

The overall reading speed in enhanced by survey and question parts of this strategy. If there is a doubt or confusion, highlighting helps to draw your attention to it. Other methods that have been developed based on this method are PQRST and KWL table.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN SPEED READING

The clue to learning any skill is practice, with speed reading too, you need to practice in order to succeed. The more you practice, the better you get and the faster you can read. When you first begin speed reading, use simple text or one that you are familiar with to practice your skills. Look for the text that are appropriate for speed reading, these could include legal reports, white papers, emails, etc. Apply the skills and techniques discussed earlier in the article to your reading material, scan, skim, use a pointer and highlight what is important. Before you begin speed reading, it would be a good idea to measure your current reading speed so you can mark your progress.

  • Reading Warm-Ups: Before you start speed reading it is advisable to read something light, so you are prepared.
  • Remove any distractions: Find a quiet area where you will not be disturbed while you read.
  • Scanning the text: Scan the text using the techniques discussed earlier.
  • Reading the beginning and end of the paragraphs: Read the first sentence and the last sentence of the text to get the gist of it.
  • Prevent Subvocalization: Do not speak the words in your mind as you read.
  • Use a pointer: Use something to guide your eyes.
  • No multitasking: Do not try to do anything else while you are reading, this will reduce your speed. Focus on your reading alone.
  • Use a Speed reading aid or take a class: It is a good idea to use an aid that will help you train yourself in speed reading.
  • Avoid highlighting: Some experts feel that you should not highlight the text as it encourages reading the same text twice and not remembering or understanding it at all.
  • Set a time of the day: Read at one particular time each day. This will encourage you to form a routine and prepare you for speed reading.
  • Getting rid of bad reading habits: Get rid of all the bad reading habits as discussed earlier.
  • Eye Movement skills: Learn to train your eyes to make shorter and fewer eye stops while reading. Learn peripheral reading skills.
  • Paced Reading: Set a time goal for yourself to finish reading a book or an assignment. Try and keep to your schedule as much as possible.
  • Take breaks: If you have long hours of reading to do, make sure you take frequent breaks in between; for example, take a five-minute break every hour or so.
  • Eye Training Tools: Play games that help to train your eyes in moving more efficiently. Here is a good resource for eye training games.

SPEED READING AND COMPREHENSION

When normally reading at the average pace of between 200 – 400 words, our comprehension of the text is almost 100%. While speed reading at twice or even thrice the average speed, it has been argued that comprehension of the text is compromised. Though this may be true to some extent, especially with people who have recently learned the techniques, comprehension is seen to improve over time. It takes time and practice to improve comprehension. For simple text, it is possible to have a higher comprehension, but when it comes to complex text or unfamiliar ideas and concepts, comprehension is seriously compromised when reading at speeds higher than 500 words per minute. Getting rid of techniques like subvocalization also impacts comprehension of complex text. What you are reading also has an impact, it is easier to speed read and comprehend a novel as compared to a course book, which requires greater focus and concentration while reading. While speed reading, one may take in a lot of information but the processing capacity of the brain is limited and it may not be able to deal with all the information that is being thrown at it, and hence comprehension suffers.

Improving Comprehension While Speed Reading

To attain better comprehension while speed reading, it is important that you are alert, aware and your brain is active. So a good rest, some food and perhaps a dose of caffeine is what you would need to understand fully what you are reading. This is why a lot of speed reading gurus recommend practicing speed reading early in the morning. Another technique is to visualize the information from the text you are reading. This helps the brain to form pictures that it can remember better than texts, as a large portion of the brain is dedicated to sorting visual information, so the brain processes visuals faster than texts. The most important part is practice, the more you practice, the better your comprehension gets. Over time, you may be able to achieve 100% comprehension over speeds higher than 500 words.

TOOLS AND SOFTWARE AVAILABLE FOR IMPROVING SPEED READING SKILLS

If you wish to increase your reading skills and speed, then you do not need to look far. There are hundreds of tools and apps available to you on the internet. Though some of you may be skeptical about the capability of an app teaching you speed reading, these apps do help you to train your eye and brain to process words and focus on important keywords in a text, thus improving your overall reading speed. Most of these apps use the same or similar techniques that are used by brick and mortar establishments that teach speed reading skills. A lot of the apps use the RSVP technique where they display words in quick succession. You may be able to adjust the number of words displayed in some of these apps.

There are also several softwares available for speed reading. These softwares are designed for various age levels starting from kindergarten and going up to college level. They offer beginner, intermediate and advanced stages.

Best speed reading apps

If you have a smart device, then training yourself to speed reading is as easy as downloading and installing an app on your mobile. Once you have installed it, you can use it to train yourself at your convenience and in your own time. There are hundreds of apps available on the net for the three main platforms of iOS, Android, and Windows. Below is a list of some of the best apps available at present.

  • Spreeder: This app is a part of the 7Speeed Reading software. It is available for all platforms and is free. You can paste your own text and set your own pace. You can play, pause and restart the app.
  • Rapid Reader (iOS): This is an app that is a part of Spritz and allows users to download web content and speed read it on their smart devices. This app uses RSVP technique. It has 40-speed settings that range between 250 – 1000 words per minute.
  • QuickReader (iOS): This is an e-reader and a speed reader combined into one powerful app. It allows you to download and read e-books, import articles, webpages, etc. it incorporates speed reading techniques to improve your speed over time. It has reading tests and allows practice sessions. There are 6 versions to choose from. QuickReader Lite is the free version.
  • Velocity (iOS): This is a paid app and cost $2.99. It supports multiple languages and uses RSVP technique. It can grab text from a variety of internet sources.
  • Syllable (iOS): This is a paid app and costs $2.99. It has many of the same features as Velocity.
  • ReadQuick (iOS): Priced at $9.99, ReadQuick uses the RSVP technique to teach speed reading. The speed can be configured, there is a feature that allows you to track your progress, can integrate your reading list so you can read it easily.
  • OutRead (iOS): Another app for the iOS platform. Teaches you speed reading by using the meta guide technique. It highlights the word in the text thus helping to guide your eye. It can integrate reading material from other software. It is priced at $4.99 in the app store.
  • Reading Trainer: This is a multi-platform app and is available for Android, iPad, iPhone as well as Windows Phone. It is priced between $2.49 – $4.99 depending upon the platform. This app has multi-language support and several built-in exercises to improve reading speed.
  • A Faster Reader (Android): This is a free app for Android platform. It uses the RSVP method to enhance reading and comprehension skills.
  • Eyercize: This is an app that uses the meta guide process to train you to speed read. You can alter the speed from 100 to a whopping 5000 words per minute. The words can be displayed as single words or as groups of words adjustable from 1 – 17words per group.
  • Spritz: This is also a RSVP reader for Android. You can adjust the speed at which the words are displayed. The range is from 100 wpm to 750 wpm.
  • Fastr: This is an app for iOS platform and devices. It is available for $2.99 on the iTunes app store. It allows you to read e-books and is similar to RapidReading.

REALISTIC VIEW OF SPEED READING

It is important to have a realistic view of the speed you can reach while comprehending all that you are reading. According to this Video, by Tomas Libas, the maximum speed with full comprehension cannot reach more than 500 – 600-word range. The claims that some apps and software make of reading thousands of words per minutes are over the top and cannot be achieved by ordinary people. They are only for exceptional readers, most of whom are natural speed readers. Most of the apps that claim to train you to read up to 600 words a minute, can only reach the speeds with average readers in drills where there is no eye movement involved as the words appear at the same place on the screen. This gives the impression of reading very quickly, but this is not the way people normally read. The more realistic view is that you can, at the most, double your reading speed and that too after a lot of practices. If you are an average reader with a speed of about 300 words per minute, you can expect to enhance your speed to say about 400 – 500 with enough training.

Most of the apps and exercises do not take into account the fact that the reading speed varies from page to page, or one paragraph to another. Another point to consider is that subvocalization is unavoidable. Even the fastest readers do it albeit at a much faster pace than normal readers. It is almost impossible to understand and comprehend what is being read if subvocalization is eliminated. In most cases, speed reading has been found to be of no help, especially if the text is unfamiliar, contains complex ideas or puts forth new concepts.

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