Speed Reading Is Just Effective Skimming: Learn How To Read Faster By Increasing Your Comprehension

reading
In reading, there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy; speed-reading is simply effective skimming. Matteo Merzi, cc by 2.0

Skilled readers average 200 to 400 words per minute, yet speed reading classes and technologies claim this pace can be doubled or even tripled to 500 to 750 words per minute. Sadly, there are no shortcuts to reading more quickly if you want to fully understand what you’ve read, a new study finds.

“There is a trade-off between speed and accuracy in reading,” concluded a team of psychology scientists, who examined reams of available research on the science of reading.

In 1959, Evelyn Wood introduced her Reading Dynamics training program and launched the speed reading movement in America, explained the team. This high school teacher’s methods encouraged students to grasp whole phrases in a single glance as a way to increase reading speed.

“The basic principles she advocated still form the foundations of most current speed-reading training courses,” wrote the authors of the current study.

Apps and technologies deliver an entirely new approach to speed reading by eliminating the need to make extraneous eye movements. Words appear at the center of your tablet or phone in quick succession, each new word replacing the last. Yet, eye movements account for no more than 10 percent of overall time spent reading, the researchers say, and without the ability to re-read, your overall comprehension will worsen.

In fact, your eyes are not the biggest obstacle to moving swiftly down a page, it’s your brain. Reading at a rapid pace requires cognitive skill — specifically, the ability to process fresh word combinations into meaningful sentences.

"A real page-turner"

In 2007, World Speed Reading Champion Anne Jones sat down in a popular London bookstore one rainy Sunday and consumed the latest, just-released Harry Potter book in about 47 minutes (over 4,200 words per minute). Then she summarized the text for British reporters.

“It’s a real page-turner, great fun. The kids are going to love it but there are some sad moments in it,” the 55-year-old mother of three told BBC News.

What reporters learned later was that Jones had crammed for this test by reading (and re-reading) the previous six Harry Potter books to gain a comprehensive understanding of the characters and plotline. She was a super fan, essentially, who knew as much about the series as its author, J.K. Rowling.

Effective speed readers generally know a lot about the topic or content of a text beforehand, say the researchers. Without this pre-knowledge, they usually do not remember much of what they’ve devoured. Essentially, they are skimmers, who move quickly over less essential parts of a text and slow down for the important stuff.

In the end, the researchers say, the one thing you can do to increase your speed is to practice reading for comprehension, increasing your vocabulary, and generally becoming a more skilled user of language.

Source: Rayner K, Schotter ER, Masson MEJ, Potter MC, Treiman R. So Much to Read, So Little Time: How Do We Read, and Can Speed Reading Help? Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2016.

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