Does Speed Reading Actually Work?

Reading super fast is a skill which fascinates many people. Would it not be amazing to read documents and books much faster and retain all the information? After all, it would save a lot of time and enable readers to learn more facts and skills quicker.

In this article, we want to explore the often hyped subject of speed reading. We will explain what speed reading is, if it really can save a lot of time and introduce some of the typical speed reading techniques.

In the end, we will dive deeper into when speed reading can be applied and why speed reading does not always make sense.

What is speed reading?

Speed reading is the practice of reading more words in less time, thus allowing a person to finish a book or document faster.

During speed reading, readers try to read and understand several words at a time, so-called sentence reading. The individual words are not read one by one, instead, a speed reader will be able to fill in omitted words through context.

Speed reading a text needs concentration. While easy texts can be scanned really fast, complicated information requires more context and can only be read slower.

Can speed reading save a lot of time?

If speed reading is understood as reading and understanding a text faster than usual to save time – speed reading is unlikely to work. Usually, a higher reading speed will compromise the understanding of the subject. Woody Allen put this trade-off perfectly when he said:

I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.

Woody Allen


However, with speed reading, it is possible to quickly get an overview of certain content through so-called skimming. In this way speed reading can save a lot of time in determining the main idea of a long piece of information, reviewing a piece of information or looking for a piece of information.

Which speed reading techniques are there?

There are some techniques that help with the ability to read and thus improve the reading speed:

  • The pointer method – The pointer method involves physically following words while reading, either with a finger or an object such as a card. It prevents our eyes from wandering and keeps them focused on the words.
  • The subvocalization method – In the sub-vocalization method readers try to avoid pronouncing each word in their head. When we read loudly in our mind, reading gets slowed down.

By practising these techniques you can increase your reading speed over time.

However, apart from these techniques, there are some more general tips to increase your reading speed:

  • Time your reading – Keep a record of the time you need to read a page or chapter. It helps to keep track of the speed and prevents your mind from wandering off.
  • Keep distractions away – Distractions such as phone and internet drastically influence your ability to stay focussed. Even though you’re not actively using your phones, their mere presence may affect your ability to stay concentrated.

When should speed reading be applied?

Before improving your reading speed, find out why you are reading something.

If your goal is to skim texts, you should and can practice speed reading. However, if you want to gain some fundamental knowledge about a certain topic like economics, for example, speed reading won’t help.

In that case, you are better off spending your time considering your effectiveness, such as stopping at a certain passage and reading up on the concepts which need deep understanding.

Also, from time to time, you may want to stop and reformulate the writing into your ideas or create a graph simplifying the concept. Writing out notes or graphs helps to revise the text and is a way to speed read without reading the whole text.

Conclusion

Yes, reading faster is possible. There are several techniques such as the pointer method or the subvocalization method that will help you increase your reading speed.

Keep in mind that every gain in reading speed is usually traded with a loss in reading comprehension. Thus speed reading should only be applied with very basic lectures or easy to understand texts.

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Daniel Dippold

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