I’ve invested over a month of daily practice learning to speed read with Peter Kump’s
Break Through Rapid Reading 2e. Although it was definitely worth the time and effort, I do think there are some flaws and misconceptions about speed reading. In this post, I’m going to show you what you should expect from it, what you shouldn’t, and most importantly, how to do it.
The basic concept behind speed reading is that most people read slowly because they are limited by subvocalization. This is when you say the words in your head as you read. Almost everyone does this automatically, but rarely do people notice it. By drastically reducing the number of words you subvocalize (it’s pretty much impossible to eliminate all of it), you can drastically increase your reading rate. The way to do this is by practice reading faster than you can mentally say all the words to yourself. You rapidly increase your reading speed first and then practice until your comprehension catches up.
Speed reading is great when all you need is a general idea of what you’ve read. Luckily, this applies to most reading because people rarely remember more than the main details of a book a month or so after they’ve finished it. When the material you’re reading isn’t of vital importance, speed reading is most useful because you can whip through it several times faster while still retaining the main concepts, which is really all you were going to remember anyways no matter what speed you read at. I’ve personally increased my casual reading speed from just over 500 WPM to over 1300 in this kind of informal reading.
However, there are times when subvocalization isn’t the limiting factor of your reading speed. Someone who is actively studying a textbook won’t just read the book; they’ll be doing other things like writing notes, highlighting, drawing diagrams, rereading sections and mentally recalling details. When you’re reading for a fuller understanding, subvocalization is no longer the limiting factor. You could try to reduce it and read more visually, but this will not increase your speed and could potentially be detrimental to your comprehension. This is especially true for poetry analysis, where “saying” the words in your head is essential to understanding.
If you want to broaden your scope of knowledge by getting through more books, speed reading is excellent. However, many speed reading products overhype the skill quite a bit, trying to give you the impression that you’ll be able to read everything so quickly, you’ll become an instant genius after learning this skill. They even include “advanced” techniques such as reading backwards without losing comprehension or reading whole paragraphs at once by using your peripheral vision. Not only are these tricks highly unpractical for anything but the easiest reading material, but you’ll probably get a migraine afterwards.
I’ve condensed the principles I’ve found useful in speed reading into four simple steps. If you want to learn it more in-depth, I recommend picking up Break Through Rapid Reading 2e, but this is enough to get you started.
1. Use a Pacer
It doesn’t matter whether you use your index finger or a pen or even a laser pointer; just use something. Even though you might not realize it, your eye movements are somewhat jerky. When reading at high speeds without something to guide your eyes, this jerkiness will cause you to constantly lose track of where you are on the page, and even it’s only for a fraction of a second, it accumulates over time to greatly reduce your reading rate.
2. Practice Read
You have to practice read faster than you can mentally speak the words in order to reduce subvocalization. You might feel that it’s a waste of time to read with minimal comprehension, but you have to invest this practice time in order to become a skilled speed reader.
You should be doing this no matter what speed you’re reading at. By analyzing the table of contents and doing a quick skim over the material beforehand, you’re preparing yourself for what’s to come. It’s especially helpful for figuring out when you need to slow down to get down the key ideas and when you can speed up to save time.
Comprehension and memory aren’t identical, but they definitely go hand-in-hand. It’s very difficult to understand something that isn’t fresh in your mind, so it’s useful to do a quick written recall after you finish a section. You only need to jot down the main points, so it won’t take up much of your time but it’ll tremendously improve your retention. For me, the most effective method of written recall is a small mindmap. If you want to learn about some cool techniques you can use to rapidly boost your memory, check out my free report, Brain Blast!, in the downloads section.
Photo by Jixar