What Is Speed Reading and How to Master It?

Speed Reading

You have probably seen a lot of announcements for courses that offer speed reading and promote you to save your time with work and studies. Let’s see what that type of skills is and what features it has.

Speed reading is the ability to process texts from 3 to 4 times faster than average reading speed. This concept is believed to have been developed by French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal at the end of the 19th century. He used to investigate the motion of our eyes when we read, and that is what he found out:

  1. Most people don’t simply move their eyes forward along the line, their eyes tick back and forth return to the read words and parts of the text. This process is called regression. To master speed reading one has to avoid these regressions and also learn to read vertically. How is that, will you ask, as the lines are written horizontally? The key is in the next point.
  1. Narrow field of vision. Most people concentrate their eyes on a small part of the page. The trick of speed reading is to see a larger area at once. This will permit you to read in vertical motion of eyes.
  1. Concentration. If you are looking at the page with text, no other thoughts have you pass through your head. You receive information from the text to your brain, no other process shall interfere it. Experts say that the clue to the speed of reading is not in the speed itself but in your control over the reading process.
  1. Subvocalization. Have you ever noticed you “hear” or “pronounce” words in your head when you read them? That is a bad habit you are supposed to get rid of if you want to master speed reading.

Besides these principles, one has to learn to quickly define the words and parts of texts that have the main meaning. There is a method called skimming and scanning, where one learns to search for the most important sentences and structure the information according to its relevance. Children usually have it difficult as they do not have as much experience of working with text as adults do.

Some methods recommend the so-called “meta guiding”, where the reader uses a pointer to guide the direction and the speed of reading. One can use a pencil or own finger for that purpose. This method is, however, controversial, as it reduces the field of vision and may distract attention and lower concentration.

There are suggestions, that people understand easier the sense of the phrase if they do not look on the letters, but fix their sight on tops of each word. Maybe you have seen the posts in social nets where the text is written with mixed letters in the center of the word, stating that our brain only perceives the first and the last letter and the “filling” is perceived as a mix anyway. This is also an interesting feature for speed reading skills.

It is curious but the speed of your reading also depends on the position in which you read. If you lie in your bed or relaxing on the beach with a magazine, you will read much slower than if you read sitting with your feet on the floor and your back straight. Neither will you read quickly walking or in transport.


Another curious method to bust speed reading is to develop the force of your imagination. There are some special exercises for it, which are really fun. For example, you close your eyes stretch your hand and imagine you are holding an apple. Force your imagination to feel you touch the apple and feel its structure and even smell. You perfectly know the size and the color of your imagined apple. You can even take it and make it hang in the air. This exercise helps concentration and imagination, so that you will quickly create the picture of what you are reading about in your head, without vocalizing, hearing, uttering the read words.

Is speed reading useful for everyone?

Speed reading is believed to be of advantage for managing personnel who have to process many papers every day. It is good to read newspapers and scroll news and current events on your laptop screen. In these cases, dynamic reading will indeed save your time.

Some sources say that there are people, who don’t have to pass any course as they master these skills at intuitional level. However, no one is born with speed reading talent. This is a matter of practice. Some people need advice in speed reading and some learned it automatically as they process books and papers every day. If you ever had to write a PhD thesis you probably already have speed reading skills, as one has to find out relevant material in a huge library within limited time. Many teachers and professors master it as well as they review and check the huge amount of student’s papers every day.

This method, however, is not a panacea for all types of literature. The faster you read, the higher is the probability to skip information. Speed reading is not recommended for legal contracts or any kind of documents that have to be read over and through. Speed reading is also not the right method to enjoy a good book. If you want to read faster, the first advice is to read more and to exercise your brain and your eyes in other activities like chess or even ping-pong.

[custom_author=Richard Nolan]

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