3.7 Speedreading

My first job out of college was teaching speedreading.  The company dressed it up with some critical thinking skills and called it development reading.  But people took the class to learn to read faster.  I had a week of training and was sent out to teach the two-month course at a boarding school.

The concept was simple and everyone’s reading speeds improved.  Double was about average.  Some of my students achieved rock star results and could read a novel in under an hour.  Results for reading text book material were also spectacular.  Speed increased 75% with simultaneous comprehension increase of 50%.

Most increase in reading speed results from trying harder.  There are a few techniques that can leverage the push further.   But all of it is hard work.  Reading ultra-fast is a lot like playng pro sports, you have to work hard to get good, work hard to stay good, and when operating at peak, you are putting out a lot of energy.

Academic text is different from reading story.  Reading faster enhances comprehension.   Odd, I know, but true.   There are a few different comprehension techniques that are useful for text.–simple stuff I could teach in an hour.  Mostly it has to do with reading introductory and prefatory material and acquiring an overview of the main ideas and conclusions.  Then you just read for evidence and arguments.

Today, I enjoy reading more than ever and I pay little attention to reading speed.    Reading fiction fast just makes the plot unfold faster—the cinema in your head speeds up.  And lots of nuance is lost. So is the music of the words.  Would you watch a movie on fast forward? Would you read a sonnet fast?

Point is if you worry about how slow you read, especially fiction, don’t.   Adjust reading speed to the content and what you seek from it.

11 Responses to 3.7 Speedreading

  1. karen wittgraf says:

    When I began reading your post I thought ..”read beautiful thoughts in speed???” You answered my concerns in the next paragraph. There are some novels that I really don’t want to end, so savor them by reading very slowly, absorbing every word.
    The comprehension figures disprove my thinking. Tell ya what! When it’s information that bores me, I’ll speed read, and when I want to savor, I’ll savor.
    Bon Voyage! Hope you meet up with some interesting people in the southwest.

  2. David Bauer says:

    Speed reading, a la Evelyn Wood I believe, was a hot program in the early 1960s. While working in Harrisburg, PA at the time, I was told that President Kennedy and his staff used the method to scan newspapers, etc., and that I needed to take the class. Got her book instead and tried some of the techniques, which make good sense. Today I tend to read more fiction and read it slowly to savor the prose and the developing plot.

    Incidentally, should you be passing through Barkersfield around dinner time on a Saturday night, an interesting stop is BucK Owen’s Crystal Palace Showroom and Restaurant. Wear your jeans and be prepared to listen to the Buck’s original Buckaroos before heading over the pass to Barstow.

    Enjoy your travel adventure. Hope that our weather in NorCal does not follow you SoCal.

  3. M. Kaplan says:

    I’m enjoying your articles a great deal, particularly because they are very well written and not too long. I would enjoy them even slightly longer. Also, I have no life and your articles are the highlight of my day.

  4. Sane and sensible. Thanks!

    When I become conscious of reading speed, I am outside the story and my comprehension plummets. When I relax, I remember. There are more books than I’ll ever get to in this lifetime, so I guess I have to accept that.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  5. I took a speed reading class once and doubled my reading time. Then after the class endedm I returned to the slow, regular speed. I’m not in a hurry to read a good story.

  6. David Pierce says:

    Someone has to take in all the punctuation marks.

  7. BB says:

    I suggest M. Kaplan get a shelf of Bill Bryson books, then
    snuggle on the couch with a Cote du Rhone and forget
    his/her tribulations.

  8. Colleen Rae says:

    A word of advice offered in a friendly way to M. Kaplan; get a shelf of any good books and curl up on the couch with a nice Napa County cabernet. (slightly different from B.B.’s suggestion). You could probably read a book a week, slowly and happily. Then you’ll have a life.
    I agree Al. One must enjoy the nuances and implications of the book while reading.

  9. Ellen says:

    I took a speed reading class years ago. I was a fast reader anyway, so I probably didn’t need to, but I was intrigued at being able to read even more than I was already reading! I was also heading off to college, and figured it might be worthwhile. What I remember most about the class though, is that I didn’t eat hot dogs again for years! One of the articles we practiced speed reading in class was a Ralph Nader expose on what went into hot dogs. My comprehension was definitely good, as I remembered the unappetizing details for a looong time. Eventually I did have a hot dog again, but I read the label very carefully….

  10. Did you test students for retention after the read? I wouldn’t want to finish a good book too fast, but can see benefits from reading nonfiction matter pertaining to a job. Again, retention is key.

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