A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Speed Reading

It’s not uncommon that I find myself dividing my attention between two or more books at once. Currently I’m reading three, which in itself is a daunting task; but I’m a bit bored with two of them, and that’s even more worrisome. They’re putting me to sleep. It’s dreadful.


I’ve looked into a practice recently called ‘speed reading’ that many people find to be very helpful when reading. There have been many people throughout history who were thought to be natural speed readers, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other presidents. Those presidents who caught on to the fact that speed reading could be accomplished through practice started to take private courses; the most famous president to do this was Jimmy Carter. He lived in the time period when speed reading was becoming nationally recognized on college campuses.


I’ve watched a few videos, downloaded a few apps, etc., and it seems legitimate. If I try hard enough I can already read at around twice the speed I’m used to, with a very slim comprehension dip–it’s not skimming, either, it’s just learning to read faster than your internal voice. This voice (which is said to stem from the auditory parts of the brain, meaning the parietal lobe if I remember right) is the main limiting factor in people being able to read faster than they’re accustomed to. The average reading speed is 200-300 words per minute (wpm). I read at like, 279 or so, which is pretty alright.


The main premise of speed reading is mechanics vs. comprehension. For example, as children, we were taught to sound out words and read sentences first. When we read them aloud and then were asked what was just read, we had no clue. We had learned the mechanics but not necessarily comprehended what it was we were reading.


Here’s the parallel: in terms of speed reading, we first have to learn the mechanics before we can fully comprehend what we’ve read. There are many exercises that are effective in teaching how to speed read but when we utilize them, it’s easy to see that we can shut off our ‘internal voice’ but once we do, we stop comprehending what’s being read. We’re looking at words, breezing through lines of them, but we can’t really say we know entirely what’s going on.


Here’s an example of an exercise I’ve been doing: you use your pointer finger as a guide through the book. Slide it underneath of the words you’re reading from left to right, and move it from the start of the line to the end in about a second. It may be difficult to keep up but don’t slow your finger down; it will eventually start making sense to you, and you’ll understand what you’re reading a lot better if you practice. Hell, even go over the passage two or three times and see what kind of new things you pick up. Don’t get too frustrated if you’re really devoted; it takes time.


Another cool exercise I found is located on spreeder.com. It’s basically a big text box that you paste a chunk of a passage into and it reads it to you at a set speed, say, 500 wpm. It’s great. And it won’t make sense but it’ll get better, I promise. I’m still doing pretty badly but I can see my improvement. It takes around a week or so of practice, I’ve heard, to really see any sort of solid results, but as long as you practice daily you’ll do great.


Also, make sure that you use spreeder to its full capacity by changing the chunk number. This means that instead of showing you one word at a time…

( Of – man’s – first – disobedience – and – the – fruit – of – that – forbidden – tree )

It instead flashes two or more words on the screen at a time:

(Of man’s – first disobedience – and the – fruit of – that forbidden – tree…)


It helps you visually “chunk” your sentences because they flash very quickly and you really on a very visual cue. When you are given the freedom to read a book at your leisure, you typically read it one word at a time, which is very slow.


One last thing I’d like to say is that this does not mean that you will read like this for the rest of your life. A common question posed is “won’t this ruin novels for me?” No. The main counter argument is that it is the easiest thing in the world to revert back to your old ways of reading and pick slowly and carefully through important passages. Nothing would stop you. But sometimes we read stories that we’d like to peruse more quickly because they’re slow or drawn out and we don’t even have the means to accelerate through the less important parts. That’s where speed reading would help; it would allow you to alternate between auditory and visual reading when necessary, and many people have learned to use both very successfully while reading novels, without losing any sort of information along the way.



aestheism, not atheism.




Comments on: "Speed Reading" (1)

  1. Marilyn Quinn (aka Grandma) said:

    I heard about some guy who had mastered the art of speedreading. He was able to read “War and Peace in just over two hours, When asked what he knew about the book, he said, “It was something about Russia.” Hope you fare better. I know you will. xoxo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: