What is Speed Reading?

Speed reading or rapid reading is basically a process that allows a person to read a text at an increased speed. This can be done by skimming or selectively reading certain words or phrases that are relevant to the text.

The average reading comprehension rate of an individual is around 75%. However, some methods individuals employ to achieve speed reading significantly cuts into this figure, as much as less than 50%. When this happens a reader’s comprehension level is compromised. Under this condition it would be very difficult for a person to learn or study new materials.

Many, many books have been devoted to the topic of speed reading. Individuals who want to increase their reading speed have also invested a lot of money on courses that teach speed reading techniques.

Many reading experts have mixed feelings about speed reading. It has been said that speed reading is not appropriate for all reading, especially since the comprehension level tend to decrease during the process of speed reading.

Anything below 50% reading comprehension is considered to many as a failure. Therefore, some argue that speed reading is not conducive to learning.

When scholars did some research on speed readers, they determined that speed readers were not as good at drawing out details as those readers who were just instructed to skim the text.

This has been attributed to the fact that some speed readers have been trained to increase their speed of reading without paying much heed if they actually are absorbing the information they are receiving.

Many advocates of speed reading claim that speed reading increases IQ and memory. But others claim that this is not the case, and they have gone as far as to take legal action against those businesses that offer speed reading courses that have made this claim.

The problem with speed reading is that a person’s ability to process information is sometimes compromised. Subvocalization- this is when you hear your own voice in your head. This plays a big part in a person’s ability to understand the information that he or she is reading. Some speed readers avoid subvocalizing to increase their reading speed. This is why some reading experts claim that their ability to comprehend suffers.

Some tips on how to speed read:

  1. Before actually reading the text, preview the material that you are about to read first. This way you would have an idea on what your topic is about. Read the title, heading of the paragraph; assess how long the material is, etc. This way you would develop a sense of familiarity with the material you’re about to read.
  2. Devise a plan on how you are going to tackle reading the material. You might want to spend a little bit longer on some paragraphs than others, depending on the complexity of the text.
  3. Focus on the keywords. This way, you don’t spend a lot of time reading every word. Some words can be omitted while reading, such as the word ‘the’.
  4. Certain sentences don’t need to be read word by word. Just extract the essence of the sentence, or a paragraph.
  5. Avoid regression- this is when you go back to reread words that you have just read.

Speed reading requires a lot of practice to execute. This method largely consists of skimming, (also referred to as auding) which clocks in at around 700 wpm (words per minute). The average reading rate is around approximately 200-250wpm.

Those who rate at around 10,000 wpm are said to belong in the autistic category, such as Kim peek.

Kim Peek- an autistic savant has been said to read at an incredible speed while retaining comprehension and memory. He was the person that served as the inspiration for the character of Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man.

It is no doubt that speed reading has many benefits. This is why many people spend a lot of money enrolling in speed reading courses in hopes of trying to acquire this skill. But some experts say that this is not necessary.

Some community colleges offer seminars on how to learn the techniques of speed reading. Also, skimming and other techniques on how to improve one’s reading comprehension can be practiced at home. Something that will surely help a person read faster!


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Jason S.
21. July 2009
Jason S.
21. July 2009
As an instructor who teachers a certified Speed Reading course, I must say that the information presented in this article is not entirely accurate. People often confuse pop culture understanding of Speed Reading with speedy reading techniques, such as scanning or skimming (as discussed in this article). Scanning involves hitting keywords, such as the bolded vocabulary words of a textbook, in a piece of material; this technique allows a person to read at approximately 1,500 WPM but often ignores the main point of the passage(s). Skimming is a technique in which readers read headers, first sentences, last sentences, and maybe a few details; this technique allows a person to read at approximately 1,000 WPM but ignores the important details of an article. Speed Reading, on the other hand, is a style that--when properly taught and steadily practiced--allows a person to read at approximately 800 WPM (around 4x as fast as the normal speed) without skimming or scanning. This style employs a method called phrase reading, which is a technique in which readers use their peripheral vision to read meaningful groups of words. The reader will be reading every single word but will not be reading each word individually, thus increasing the reading speed. As readers also must focus on grouping words together into meaningful phrases, their brains are also actively engaged and they consequently retain more.


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