Saturday, April 12, 2008

Speed Reading

I read a lot, and so I thought I would try to improve my reading speed and comprehension with the help of a book by Peter Kump. I started it today and took a number of reading speed tests. I came out at between 370-560 words per minute (w.p.m), though the upper limit was really as fast as I could go without the comprehension suffering. This puts me firmly in the above average category (which is about 210-20 w.p.m), but way below those who claim to read at thousands of w.p.m.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has experience of speed reading books or classes, and whether they helped at all. To be honest, I'm not too convinced that many deliver on their promises, especially the crazy claims for reading speeds of 2,000 w.p.m and such like, which I tend to think is more 'sell bunk' than reality. I'd also be interested to hear about reading habits that any of you have found helpful.


At 4/12/2008 10:43 PM, Blogger Jason Goroncy said...


Just wondering what you thought of the book?

Speed reading classes? I've been to a few ... but nothing - absolutely nothing - can compete with a good night's sleep.

At 4/12/2008 10:48 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jason, haven't read much of it yet, just started.

You mean that you found the classes boring and useless?

At 4/12/2008 11:00 PM, Blogger Jason Goroncy said...

I found the classes interesting enough, but old habits die hard. I guess that I've picked up a few helpful speed reading tips but information retention has always been my problem. I've got a brain like a colander, and none of those classes have been able to help me with that (I wish that they did) so I've had to develop some of my own strategies to try and help me retain what I'm reading.

At 4/13/2008 12:48 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

I have to completely agree with Jason that sleep is the best reading aid. When I'm tired I can read the same paragraph several times before I actually get through it without daydreaming. I've even caught myself daydreaming the rest of the paragraph (and beyond) making it up! That is disconcerting when it is reading for an upcoming exam or paper!

I do best when I can occupy another part of my brain, distract it. I'm easily distracted so if I deliberately distract my brain then I can concentrate on reading. Sounds odd, but it works. My best bet is pacing. I will grab a book and begin walking the various floors of the library. When I really need to plow through material I go there after hours and weave in and out of the shelves!

I've also developed a strategy for retention. I note important stuff in the margins (just in my own books) and then after I have done a section I pop open a Nota Bene note taking file and revist these sections. I have a pen scanner, but I always add a note of my own. Sometimes I just make my note. This helps me put the ideas together.

At 4/13/2008 2:32 AM, Blogger Ken Schenck said...

If you figure out the secret, please share it! There is so much to read, so little time. It's a constant frustration. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it just doesn't. I also agree with Jason about sleep. Oh to be Michael Bird :-)

At 4/13/2008 6:08 AM, Blogger Ben Myers said...

There are some really basic exercises that you can do to speed up the time it takes for your eyes to travel from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. I reckon these exercises are well worth doing, since (so I've heard) about a third of our reading time tends to get lost in the eye-movement from one line to the next.

Another very helpful exercise is learning how to recognise a book that's not worth reading!

At 4/13/2008 8:47 AM, Blogger Judy Redman said...

I have done several speed reading courses, too. When I did the last one, I was reading significantly faster than average, as were most of the people in the group - it was held at the university and most of the people at it were academics. My reading speed improved significantly as a result, but I didn't have time to practise afterwards, so I am fairly sure that my current reading speed is lower than it was at the end of the course.

I was surprised at how fast I can actually read without losing comprehension if I push myself, but I find it tiring and I don't enjoy it anymore. The important things was, as Ben says, how fast you can move your eyes to the end of the line, and training yourself to take in bigger "chunks" of words is important.

When we did the course, we were provided with a little machine that you put over the page with a bar that moves down the page so you aren't tempted to go back. That was a useful way of ensuring that you keep your eyes moving. A friend who did the course with me downloads books onto her palm pilot and she sets it to scroll a little faster every so often. I haven't spoken to her recently about how fast she is now reading.

Retention is a problem, especially when you're reading new, technical material. I also make notes in margins and then go back and look at what I've noted. I even do this in library books, but always in pencil, and I erase my notes before I return the book!

At 4/13/2008 10:24 AM, Anonymous steph said...

I think keeping fit - daily exercise and fresh air (swimming cycling jogging, even walking) is essential to productivity and inevitably effective reading. Regular exercise is also essential for good sleeping patterns which is conducive to keeping the mind healthy and active. Those who sleep little aren't nearly as effective with detail or creativity and originality, but good at regurgitation...

At 4/13/2008 5:17 PM, Blogger Phil Sumpter said...

I've literally just read a book on this topic (Tony Buzan's). I read way slower than you: 250 wpm - though I can get up to 350 if I push myself. I've found it very helpful, though I recognize that the exercises are important. The eye just needs to be trained to interpret chunks of text quickly enough. If I progress beyond 350 will be interesting. I intend to keep up the exercises.

The most useful thing for me is using a "pacer," such as a pencial and concentrating my eyes on that. It cuts out tonnes of time as it fources me stop stop backtracking and looking at things more interesting than the text on the page. I also find that I have the psychological hinderence that I'm convinced I haven't "really" understood something unless I've mulled it over in my head first. This really holds me up and simply isn't true. So using a pencil forces me to continue.

Speed reading is more than reading faster, it's also about learning to handle different types of text and how to scan/skim, skills I think I'm also slowly learning.

So, hopefully I'll have your other three books reviewed before too long!

At 4/13/2008 7:53 PM, Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

Using a pencil or pen is definitely the way to go. The average reader can often double to triple their reading speed just by pacing themselves with a moving pencil. If I'm well rested and positioned at desk or table at a nice level I can fly through pretty quickly. The nice thing is that I can back and forth - reading slow and reading fast.

I'm not one for making notes in the margin, that slows you down to. But I do make dots. When I'm done the chapter, I go back to my dots and underline the relevant portion or make a note of it in my research database. Doing this right after you are done the chapter works best and is quickest as the content is still fresh in your mind.

At 4/14/2008 3:06 AM, OpenID rtjones said...

I agree with Danny and Phil that using a pencil is a great way to speed up. In addition to keeping yourself paced and helping to overcome the temptation of backtracking, the physical movement of the pencil can keep you from daydreaming -- if your mind starts to wander, your eye catches the movement of your pencil and you remember, 'oh that's right, I'm reading.' I love Danny's suggestion of making dots in the margin that you return to at the end of the chapter. I'm going to start that. I have to confess my ignorance of what a research database is. (Or since I'm just an M.Div. student, perhaps I am just nescient?)

At 4/14/2008 4:29 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

I hate to disagree with everyone - but my advice is slow down and enjoy what you read. If you have a lot of books you have to get through, then scan them and spot read in them.

I knew a young woman who could memorize a page at a glance and read it later. But she was very severely disabled and could only write at about 17 words an hour! She also had only one working eye. She wrote some marvelous poetry and prayers. But you, with all your senses and mechanics intact, read what your teachers say you must read and pay closer attention to the books (and stuff) the Teacher puts in front of you and enjoy them thoroughly.

At 4/14/2008 4:57 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

Hey Bob.

I find that I have to read fast to get through the material in time for courses. I have two kids, wife and a church as well as being a full time student. However, you are absolutely right about slowing down and enjoying it. I tend to do that with books not on my course reading list (or the odd time they give you a single text and lots of time to enjoy it). That is how I've read most of my favourite Moltmann texts. Books can be exquisitely delicious when savoured.

Also I do use the pencil when I'm sitting, or a ruler. I find it is about as effective for me as pacing.

At 4/14/2008 5:05 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I echo the above comments that a finger, pencil, or pen is the way to go. Just keep the finger moving at a steady pace and don't allow yourself to stop it, and then you force to sort of drag your eyes behind it. Then again, we're not reading for reading's sake, so even though I don't get a lot of books read, I have really wrestled better than most people with the concepts contained in the books I have. If I just wanted information and no thought, I could just spend a lifetime reading Wikipedia. So going back and taking the time to read passages over again and to stop and think is the best way to go. Speed is the enemy of thought!

At 4/14/2008 10:24 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, all, for some helpful advice. The Kump blokey talks about using a finger to read too.

Frank, don't you bump into things?!?!

Ben, thanks for the eye movment training tip - makes sense.

Steph, your words are probably the most important I need to hear!

"perhaps I am just nescient"

Judy, how much quicker did you manage to get?

At 4/14/2008 11:45 PM, Blogger kennyching said...

I'm at about the same speed reading level as you, and I went through a serious speed-reading program phase; sadly, none of them helped me at all.

At 4/15/2008 3:53 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Henry said...

I found this post yesterday, but it took me all of today to read through the comments.

At 4/15/2008 5:55 AM, Blogger Judy Redman said...

I can't remember how much faster I got and I can't find the certificate that should tell me (gotta love my filing system). FWIW I read at around 580-600 wpm on screen, although this slips markedly when I'm tired. You might find interesting. It suggests that comprehension drops dramatically above 800 wpm for most people. Another site I read said over 1,000 wpm is suspect.

At 4/15/2008 2:44 PM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

That is part of the excitement. For me reading is an extreme sport!

Seriously, I haven't really had a problem bumping into things, but I can't do it when there is a lot of human traffic around, all the swerving makes me oozy. I usually reserve this practice for late at night in the library and when I missed that third article I was supposed to read for the class in 15 minutes!!!!

Come to think of it, I don't read while going up or down stairs. That's a bit too tricky even for me.

At 4/15/2008 10:59 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Judy, thanks for the link.

At 5/05/2008 5:24 PM, Blogger Ben Byerly said...

Try "photo reading." (Google Search) Before I ever learned what it was, I used to use it to cram for exams - just let my eyes "see" the pages that I didn't have time to read. Someone later gave me a book about it. I haven't mastered it obviously, but occasionally I just get all the books I'm working on and flip through them. It's kind of a fun concept.

At 5/05/2008 7:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow i bet i read faster then you ever will


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