Thoughts on speed reading

On Monday afternoon, I participated in a Smart Reading course together with a few colleagues. Although the basic techniques of speed reading were explained, it left me wanting to know more. Since I don’t feel like paying more than a thousand Euros for a full, three-day course, I started to look for some more information on the topic.

If you want more or less the same information that we received in the course, have a look at this excellent overview of speed reading techniques.

For those of you who want to speed read through information on your computer display instead of in books, there is software available that uses the technique of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to help you read faster. One of these applications is RapidReader. They have a nice video illustrating that reading faster doesn’t significantly hamper your comprehension:

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There are also some free alternatives, such as Spreeder (an online speed reader) and dictator.

Apparently there is a yearly contest called the World Championship Speed Reading Competition. The current record holder is Sean Adam with 3850 words per minute with comprehension. There were also some famous people in history that could speed read, including Jacques Bergier and USA presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. There are also some claims of a child prodigy that could read more than 400 000 words per minute, but that might be attributed to her photographic memory.

Although a lot of the claims around speed reading are unrealistic and it is surrounded by the typical vagueness of pseudoscience, the idea still intrigues me. I went to the book shop yesterday and found a few books (some exclusively in Dutch, others translated from English) that seem interesting to have a look at. I also included books on Mind mapping since this is the technique used to summarize the books you read. There is another book in English that seems to be recommended by a few people: Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump.

The Dutch books I might have a look are:

Gebruik je hersens Snellezen Mindmappen Gebruik je verstand

  • Al

    Sure, be careful with speed reading programs. I would go for a reasonable academically or business oriented study method program instead.

    The problem with speed reading is the outrageous claims, the pseudoscience, and the misleading info. The fact is, speedreading has been tested, and it failed. Speedreaders generally miscomprehend. The training involves skimming. Skimming is handy for all readers, but they treat it as if its the default type of reading.

    Skimming is useful, but rauding/reading for comprehension should be the real reading workhorse. Basically its healthier to consider the slower pace of reading to be the most powerful. It usually is, because thats where your thinking, deep processing, and imagination work better. If you try to think while skimming or scanning, you will generally be in overload.

    All the popular speed reading books use misleading measures of rate/comprehension. They have multichoice tests that you can mostly answer without reading at all. This is true also with the Buzan books.

    So, to help efficiency, the answer really is to junk the junk pseudoscience and go for study methods instead. Can you read a 2000 page book in 3 minutes? Yes and no! NO- if you try to read it by speed reading. Yes- if you determine your goal, flick to the page you need by scanning and skimming, and start reading the core information carefully. Then read more slowly (100wpm) the parts that are most important, deep processing by thinking and using the imagination.

    You probably don't need a course for that. But if you feel like you want to really work on the skill, then a study methods course will do it.

  • Jo Vermeulen

    I actually went through a few of these books. Indeed, the guideline that I found most useful was to never read an article or book without setting your goals and the time you want to spend on it first. This is in fact also the underlying principle of Buzan's MMOST technique. But this is actually just a “normal” study technique. First, you get an overview of the material, to more easily put things into context. Then you slowly start filling in details until your goals are reached.

    Considering speed reading, none of the techniques actually managed to get me reading at 1000 wpm (or improve my reading speed at all). I did however notice that peripheral vision has an influence. Keeping the right distance allows you to read more words at a time. When I'm fully concentrated, I currently read at about 400 to 450 wpm, which is not that bad.

    I am currently reading De Bono's Thinking Course. Again, this book won't double your intelligence, but there are a few useful tips in there. Taking a step back and looking at things from different angles, explicitly listing what's positive and negative, the fact that it's more difficult to give constructive feedback, techniques to think out of the box, etc. I'm still trying to digest all this information and take out what is useful for me.

    Recently, I've read a few papers about evaluation in my field (Human-Computer Interaction). One of the papers gives examples of how easy it is to critize seminal ideas (e.g. Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad, Doug Engelbart's demo of hypertext, Vannevar Bush's idea of a Memex), thereby confirming what De Bono's states

    Thanks for your interesting comment!

  • games

    This article I so true, keep on writing like this, enjoyment to read 28

  • Bob

    There are lots of free programs out there as well, and lots of tests that you can play around with as well. You don't even need software if you practice the techniques on your own and test frequently.

  • Bob

    There are lots of free programs out there as well, and lots of tests that you can play around with as well. You don't even need software if you practice the techniques on your own and test frequently.

  • Rex Tang

    I’ve tried with free programs but features are limited. I’ve actually invested into a speed reading program and it was actually worth it. I’ve had a great improvement with
    regards to my speed in reading. It’s an investment that’s worth it
    since you get what you pay for.