FAQ: Speed Reading questions answered

What is the key to speed reading?

Attention.  That is the ‘secret’ to speed reading. If you consider attention as focusing both on perception and comprehension.  Attention provides the real key to speed reading. More and more experiments in neuropsychology and artificial intelligence are showing that thinking is built on perceptive foundations. Our senses do not mislead us as philosophers used to say, actually they shape our understanding. Training the visual system in conjunction with analysis, criticism and synthesis is the key to reading improvement.

Why learn speed reading?

The purpose of speed reading is to increase the rate at which an individual reads.  whilst maintaining or improving the comprehension and retention of material. Speed reading techniques aim to improve reading effectiveness rather than absolute speed.

There are lots of benefits to speed reading.  Students can increase their reading speed to keep up with their workload.  Professionals might improve their professional performance and get a pay rise.  Or it could be as simple as getting through the pile of books you keep buying but don’t have time to read. 

Speed reading can also be useful for individuals who need to process large amounts of information quickly.  Researchers, journalists, analysts or lawyers.

Always remember that speed reading is not a substitute for critical thinking.  You need to strike a balance between speed and comprehension to get the most out of reading. Reading quickly but not understanding is not effective, in fact it is detrimental.  Reading is nothing without better understanding.

How do you measure reading speed?

Take a test like the one on our homepage.  Any reading speed test will involve timing your reading against the clock. You then divide the number of words by the time it takes to give you a number.  That number is the words per minute (wpm)  you read at.

What is a good average reading speed?

As a rule of thumb a good average reading speed for adults is 250 words per minute (wpm).  For children, it may be lower, aspect 150 wpm as an average.

When thinking about an individual’s speed you should consider; ability, the difficulty of the text, and the reason for reading.  Even the medium (paper or screen) and the environment have an impact.

Speed shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself.  Comprehension, retention, and critical thinking are essential for effective reading.

Can anyone learn to read at 1,000 WPM?

The average reader reads at 250 wpm.  Among the readers learning to speed read about 20% will never overtake the sound barrier of 400 wpm.  They need to sound each word with their inner voice during the reading process. This is not the same phenomenon as subvocalization that limits speed to 250 wpm.  400 wpm is an appropriate speed for pleasant reading and near top comprehension.  Many good readers, not trained to speed reading, but reading several books a week, read around 350 wpm.  You want to read at the top level of your own comprehension speed.  Your optimum reading speed.

Can I read without concentrating?

Concentration is a very efficient way to improve reading. Knowing a quiz will happen after a reading test, like the one on this site, is often sufficient to improve speed by 20%.  As well as enhancing comprehension!  Thus speed and concentration go together. Think about what happens when you are skiing, jogging or driving a car: concentration automatically increases with speed as perception and anticipation improve. Thus when you read concentrate, analyze, criticize first improved pace comes naturally.

Does comprehension improve reading speed?

Comprehension can increase with speed. It does this because of the characteristics of working memory. Who gets a better and deeper comprehension of music, the experienced conductor or the novice musician? The latter reads one note at a time, about 100 times slower. Consider also a chess master simultaneously playing against 30 opponents. As you will discover the same properties of memory apply to the well trained reader.

What is subvocalization and how does it limit reading speed?

Subvocalization is the tendency to pronounce words as they are read.  Activating parts of the brain related to pronouncing impose a reading speed limit of 250 wpm. This common flaw is what limits performance of average readers.

What is the “sound barrier” in reading?

Some readers need to hear every word with their inner voice, this limits reading speed to around 400 wpm. In such cases, auditory brain areas pace reading. This is called the sound barrier. Functional images of the brain show that a concrete word like ‘book’ preferentially activates visual areas.  While an abstract word like ‘efficiency’ is processed by the auditory areas.  So words do not always require sound to produce meaning. Not faced with this sound barrier and without special training deaf people often read above 1000 wpm.

What are “regressions”?

Eye fixations consume a large part of reading time. Saccades, the fast eye movements, on the other hand, only amount to 10% of reading time. For an average reader about 15% of saccades are directed backwards. These reverse readings are called regressions and are due to poor comprehension. Good readers show a reduced number of back-saccades and use regressions efficiently to remove ambiguities. Fewer regressions explain in part that speed and comprehension go together.

What does “visual span” mean in reading?

The visual span or attention window is the area that the brain has selected to analyze during a fixation.  During fixation the eyes are relatively stationary, this is when virtually all the visual inputs happen.

For the average reader visual span corresponds to one word; while for the good reader it is about five words at a time. The eyes have the capacity to perceive with sufficient detail text in an area of roughly 30 characters wide by 10 lines high. However as reading is not only seeing, this large span cannot be exploited.

 What is reading fluency?

Reading fluency is the ability to read smoothly and accurately.  With appropriate speed, expression, and comprehension.  Fluency can be developed through repeated reading. Reading the same passage multiple times it is read accurately, at the appropriate speed. Fluency is a crucial component of reading comprehension. Readers who are not fluent may struggle to comprehend the meaning of the text.

Why are hieroglyphics still relevant?

Hieroglyphics illustrate an interesting phenomenon: reading is an automatic unavoidable process starting as soon as you see familiar characters. 

Now let’s think like an ancient Egyptian.

He reads these graphics not as mere graphics but as text. Most interestingly these hieroglyphics clearly demonstrate a speed reading mechanism.  With this writing system the character ‘water’ can either represent the sound of ‘water’ or the idea of water.  The Egyptian reader had direct visual access to meaning.  Without the time consuming need to build the sound with his inner voice.   Just like the good reader today seeing the word ‘water’.

Is speed reading a natural ability or a skill that can be learned?

The ability to read faster with comprehension is a learned skill that can be developed through practice and proper training.

Think of it as like riding a bike.

Riding a bike requires a minimum speed. When speed is too low the task becomes difficult and risky. The same applies to reading. Poor reading is like a steep and uncomfortable excursion. As a consequence slow readers rarely read for leisure, entering a vicious circle of slow and seldom reading. This leads to regression that in turn further slows reading and decreases anticipation.

How do you get kids interested in reading?

Five years old kids know the answer: read to them! Reading to a child enlarges their vocabulary. Makes them deal with more complex sentences than those used in spoken language.  They will develop a privileged relationship with both books as the reader. Reading to children teaches them to read. In his book ‘Reads Like a Novel’ Daniel Pennac with a stirring plea, advises teachers to read aloud to teenagers to make them love books.  Teaching speed reading techniques in schools, to students around the age of 10, would have a highly beneficial influence on reading habits.

Does speed reading improve memory?

Speed reading may not improve memory on its own.  The primary focus is on increasing reading speed and comprehension.  It may help to improve memory by improving the way one processes and retains information.  It may not.

Is speed reading healthy? 

If speed reading is a new process for the brain it creates new neural pathways.  New pathways or strengthening the connections between different areas of the brain.

Speed reading can help reduce cognitive load with improved fluency.  The brain to focus more on understanding and retaining the information. Much like driving a car becomes automatic with repetition .  This freeing up cognitive resources may mean the brain can more effectively store and retrieve from memory.

Speed reading is definitely not a magical solution for improving memory.  There are many other techniques and strategies that can be used to enhance memory.  Mnemonic devices, repetition, and visualization techniques. Speed reading should not be relied on as a method for enhancing memory.

Is speed reading good for the brain?

There is some evidence to suggest that speed reading can have a positive effect on the brain. Studies have shown that speed reading can increase brain activity.  Improving neural connections in areas of the brain associated with reading and language processing.  IMHO anything new you do is ‘good’ for the brain.  Be creative, step outside your comfort zone.  Skydive, paint a sunset or learn to be a speedreader.  All these things create or strengthen neural connections.  It’s all gravy baby!

Speed reading is a form of mental exercise that can help keep the brain active and engaged.  That would seem like a good thing.  Influencers tell us “the brain is a muscle, use it or lose it”.  To some extent this is true.  By challenging your brain to read more quickly, process information more efficiently, you may help improve cognitive function.  That means enhanced overall brain health.

The benefits of speed reading depend on how it’s practiced.

Use it as a tool for improving reading efficiency and comprehension.  Any positive effects on brain function are a bonus.

Is speed reading less fun than regular reading?

One outstanding skill of efficient readers is the speed flexibility they show with different kinds of texts. Even if they are able to read at 1000 wpm, they can instantaneously slow down to 300 wpm, a perfect speed for tasting and savouring every word. A slow reader does not have this option.  So no, speed reading adds to the fun, it doesn’t detract from it.

How long does it take to learn to speed read?

Ten to eleven minutes. 1 to 4 hours, a week to double reading speed are times mentioned in in various ads for rapid reading. We are sorry to disappoint you, but we observed that doubling reading speed can take several weeks. Reading is a complex psychomotor skill. Much like playing tennis, typing with 10 fingers or playing the piano. Speed reading like every developed skill, requires rewiring parts of our brain. How good you get depends on how much you put into it. The task demands a consistent training over sufficient time to suit you.

The good news is that you can see rapid improvements quickly. But rapid gains (just like the gym) fade away because they are not firmly assimilated. You gotta do the reps if you wanta see the rewards!

What is the difference between skim reading and speed reading?

Skim reading is often confused with speed reading, but it is not the same thing. Skimming is a reading technique that involves quickly going over a text to get the gist of the main ideas, without necessarily reading every word. It can be useful to quickly gather information or to determine if a text is worth reading more thoroughly. Speed reading, on the other hand, involves training oneself to read at higher speeds while maintaining comprehension and retention.

What is finger pointing or hand scanning in speed reading?

Finger pointing or hand scanning is a simple way to focus attention. You can use it to augment pace and limit regressions. This works well with speeds up to 300 wpm.  At higher speeds jerky movements distract.  The hand hides part of the material thus limiting visual span.  If you want to hand scan, we advise scanning down a margin with a pencil without hiding the page. Hand or finger scanning should never have the purpose of achieving a regular eye movement.  In any case during finger scanning the eyes will focus on the finger! One fact is unquestionable: the technique does not suit reading from a computer screen.

What’s a tachistospcope?

A tachistospcope is a device that projects images with controlled size and time. The US Air Force originally used tachistoscopes to help pilots identify aircraft by gradually reducing the size and time of flashing images. This technique was then adapted to reading by flashing words. Shortening perception time only produced improvements for reading while the exercises were maintained. This kind of mechanical training totally ignored the cognitive aspects of reading.

Why don’t Speed Reading apps work?

Training with a tachistoscope drastically reduces the visual exposure time.  The time needed to recognize a given pattern. Observing the eye movements of prodigy readers demonstrates longer fixation times. Much longer than those of an average reader.

Seeing more words per fixation is the key to improve speed and comprehension. The reading pace of 3 to 4 fixations per second is also the natural pace of thinking. Increasing artificially this pace is not the right solution to speed reading.  The key to think faster is using wider thoughts. This is in accordance with the fact that tachistoscopic reading improvements rarely provide lasting results.

Is it possible to read 25,000 words per minute?

Some reading methods pretend to achieve speeds of 25,000 words per minute. However they say very little about comprehension. To get a clear idea of what that means go to the reading test, play with Page Down key, Start and Stop buttons. When you get a 25,000 wpm score you will realize that turning pages fast enough is the only obstacle to read at 25,000 wpm.

Why is it harder and more tiring to read on screen?

Small colored moving patterns irresistibly attract our visual system. This is enough to explain the hypnotic power of TV. Animated banners or icons produce chaotic eye movements by capturing attention. Results from an experiment called the antisaccade task, show that young and slow readers are particularly sensitive to such kinds of visual distraction. An option to freeze this invading visual harassment is a must for a readable Web browser.

Font aliasing and screen flicker are the two important factors that lower efficiency when reading from screens. Font aliasing is because the edges of characters are not smooth but step-like. Flicker is due to the fact that the screen is refreshed about one hundred times per second. Though not perceived consciously, the added noise generally penalizes reading. Tiny and fast eye movements occur during fixation. This so called tremor has a magnitude of less than the thickness of a character line and a frequency of 100 cycles per second. Tremor is used to analyze the outline of objects and to refresh the output of the eye detector cells. Current screen and antialiasing technologies have still to improve as the eyes notice flickering up to 400 Hz.