How Does Speed Reading Work?

Grade Level: 
10
Answered by: 
Samantha Scott

What is speed reading?

Reading is important because it helps you understand the world around you. Reading improves your language skills, which helps you when you talk or write to others. It also lets you be creative through your writing. But with so much information to process in today’s society, wouldn’t it be great to be able to read faster? Speed reading is a special way you can learn to read faster. This means the number of words you read per minute would go up. The average reading speed of an adult is about 200-300 words per minute, while the World Speed Reading Champion averages 4,700 words per minute.

How does speed reading work?

Two kids readingThe ability to read depends on the parts of the eye and how they work, as well as how your brain processes sight. The two key ways your eye moves when you read are: 1) looking at one spot (called fixation) and 2) short, rapid eye movements (called saccades). All the time that is required for each fixation and saccade is what limits the number of words someone can read per minute.

In the case of speed reading, the technique aims to reduce how long the reader fixates on words. It does that by reducing subvocalization. Subvocalization is also known as silent speech, the habit of sounding out words in your head while you read. There are many ways you can try to reduce that voice, such as skimming (or moving your eyes quickly over the text) or practicing rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). For example, skimming allows us to skip over parts of the paragraphs to find the most meaningful parts and this helps us to read faster. RSVP is a speed reading technology that helps people learn to read faster. This method flashes single words on a screen so that you are only concentrating on one word at a time (go to Spritz.com to try the RSVP method). It helps you decrease the time you pause on each word.

Does speed reading affect comprehension and memory?

Anne Jones is the current World Speed Reading Champion. She read a 607-page Harry Potter book in 47 minutes at 4,200 words per minute. Anne’s comprehension rate (how much she understood) was reported to be 67%, lower than usual. This is evidence that it is not possible to increase the rate of our reading without losing comprehension. In addition to loss of comprehension, memory suffers too. Studies have shown that as people increase their reading speed, they decrease the ability to remember information. This means that comprehension and memory are affected by speed reading.


Additional images via Wikimedia Commons.

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An open book
Reading faster does have its drawbacks. Do you think you understand the same amount if you read a chapter twice as fast?

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