Speed reading is one of the numerous techniques aiming at improving the skill of reading quickly. The origins of the technique date back several decades ago, however it wasn’t until late 1950s that this approach to upgrading reading proficiency began to attract some serious research.
How did it all start?
Back in the 1950s, Evelyn Wood, a teacher and a researcher, held a study trying to find out why some people were naturally better than others at reading. She also attempted to train herself to read faster. Unsurprisingly, the solution came by accident. While sweeping through a book, Wood noticed that as she focused on her fingers flapping through pages, she paid better attention to what was on those pages and could concentrate better. Thus, she began to use her hand as a pacer, which helped her eyes move more smoothly down the page. Wood subsequently developed this finding into a Reading Dynamics course which she introduced to the public in the late 1950s. Since then, this practice has been gradually developed with the help of several popular methods. Recently, with the rise of numerous speed reading software applications, this technique has been brought back to the spotlight. However, the discovery of different modern tools in this field has also inspired some controversies as to the effectiveness and appropriateness of speed reading techniques.
The most important truth here to be understood is that speed reading cannot be considered as a panacea to upgrade reading skills at all levels and for all purposes. Nor can speed reading be totally dismissed as a useless technique. In some situations it’s better to avoid speed reading whereas in certain cases this practice is indispensable.
Most Commonly Used Speed Reading Techniques and Their Pros and Cons
Skimming and scanning
Skimming and scanning are probably the most commonly used methods of enhancing reading skills. Skimming involves visually browsing through sentences on a page while looking for a meaning or an answer to a question. This skill may be innate in some cases. However it is usually acquired by practice. Skimming is conducted at a higher rate (around 700 words per minute) as opposed to a typical reading rate of 200-300 words per minute. This large discrepancy leads to poor comprehension, thus making skimming not a desirable tool for parsing some reading materials which require accurate comprehension. Nonetheless, skimming comes really useful in specialized language proficiency tests where examinees are given rather little time to do text-based exercises. Such tests would also require scanning skills which involve recovering information using a mind-map which shows the interconnectivity of ideas obtained by skimming. These two popular techniques require the skill of meta-guiding your eyes.
According to this speed reading technique, you have to visually guide your eye in search for required information. Your eyes can be guided with the help of your fingers, a pen or pencil or any other tool which you can use for pointing at words in the text. At a more profound level, the meta-guiding technique may also involve drawing patterns or shapes on the page to train the visual cortex (part of the brain responsible for processing visual information) and also decrease subvocalization (saying words in your head after perceiving them) as the main culprit reducing the reading rate. Whereas this methodology does prove effective in some cases, it also often results in losing some vital information and is therefore to be used accurately.
Additionally, the choice of an appropriate speed reading technique also depends largely upon one’s individual capabilities. For instance, some people are better at remembering visually patterned information while others prefer other ways of organizing information.
Experts also remind that in order not to lose details acquired by speed reading, it is important to revitalize them once the reading is completed by certain exercises, such as thinking back about what has been processed, recalling most salient details, retelling and reciting the parts of the text.
Other speed reading activities include taking notes, writing summaries of processed reading passages, underlining or highlighting important details of the passage, making text outlines, breaking up passages into blocks and looking for key words. All these traditional methods may be used based on one’s specific needs and aptitudes.
Speed Reading Software.
The development of information technologies has given a new life to acquiring speed reading skills. There are various available software applications which are said to enhance one’s reading aptitude. Experts are divided as to their efficiency, however, truth be told, in certain situations speed reading does prove effective particularly when reading for detail is not that important or one just has to cram for tests or exams.
- Spreed is a program whereby words of the selected text are flashed on the screen.
- Outread/Velocity/Syllable are applications which can be used on your phone involving meta-guiding and flashing words.
- OpenSpritz not only flashes words on the screen but also highlights individual letters to keep your eyes focused.
In conclusion, as much as we would like to read faster and more efficiently, speed reading’s major drawback is poor comprehension particularly of texts heavily loaded with information. Whereas speed reading techniques as well as software applications may be useful for upgrading reading skills generally, they don’t seem to be able to substitute detailed reading should a thorough comprehension be required.
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