Posted by: wordsmithsuk | September 1, 2010

Speed Reading – your questions answered


Every time I run a speed reading session the same kinds of questions come up. I thought it would be useful to answer some of the main ones here.

How can I improve my comprehension when I am reading?

A lot of people worry about the fact their comprehension drops when they first start to improve their reading speed. And quite right too: there is absolutely no point in getting through material faster if you can’t understand what you are reading!

It’s important to understand that, although you can force your eyes to move faster, it takes a while for the brain to get used to this new speed.

It’s the same when you are learning any new skill – driving a car or using a keyboard for example. At first, you don’t perform very well because all you can think about is how to position your body. But after a while, those actions become like second nature and that is when you become truly proficient.

The solution is to keep practicing the skills of reading faster:

  • Skimming through the material before starting to read
  • Looking for key words across and down the page
  • Making good use of your peripheral vision
  • Developing the habit of moving forward all the time
  • Using a pen or pencil to guide your eyes

The more you practice the easier it becomes. Pretty soon you stop thinking about what you are doing and start thinking about what you are reading. Suddenly comprehension is no longer a problem, and you will have become a much more effective reader.

How can I improve my concentration when I am reading?

Paradoxically, poor concentration usually happens when you are reading too slowly. Your brain is capable of processing huge amounts of information very fast. It will wander off and think of something else if you don’t feed it with enough information to engage it completely.

Driving is a good analogy for this. You know well that you concentrate much better when you are driving in a city where there is a lot of traffic than when you are driving through miles of empty desert. The more information you have to process, the better your concentration.

There are many things that you can do to improve your concentration when reading:

  • Set aside specific chunks of time for reading
  • Make the best of your environment
  • Take breaks often
  • Give yourself a purpose for reading each piece of material
  • Give yourself time targets
  • Reward yourself when you have achieved reading goals
  • Eat healthily, sleep well and drink plenty of water.

Improving your ability to concentrate requires practice. You can do a number of things to train your mind, including meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, dancing, singing, drawing, playing sports and playing a musical instrument. In addition you can practice a number of simple mental exercises, like the ones listed on the Success Consciousness website http://www.successconsciousness.com/index_000005.htm.

Is speed reading appropriate for all types of books and documents?

The purpose of speed reading is to gather information, so the techniques are most appropriate for business books, business reports, academic texts, research papers, professional journals, newspapers and so on.

The ability read fast can often put you ahead of the game. There may be times when you want to read, absorb and remember the main points of certain documents that are important for you. At the time of writing there seems to be a competition among journalists to be first to finish and comment on Tony Blair’s political memoir ‘A Journey’.

Fiction is great practice for speed reading as a good story can motivate you and encourage you get into a good rhythmic flow when reading. However, don’t speed read novels if you are the sort of person who likes to savour the style of writing rather than the content of a work of fiction. And don’t ever try to speed read poetry!

How can I stop subvocalising?

Subvocalising, hearing the words in your head as you read, is a common barrier to faster reading. This is because when you subvocalise, you are reading in two steps rather than one. First you see the words, then you say them. To read faster, the words must go in one step: straight from page to brain.

To eliminate or reduce dependency on subvocalisation, it is vital to accept that this habit is very deeply ingrained. It will be hard to change because it has been with you ever since you first started to learn to read. The trick is to become less dependent on it for understanding: you do not need to hear the words in order to understand them.

Here are some tips for reducing subvocalisation.

  • Practice speed reading – it is hard to say the words when you are reading faster!
  • Do some speed reading exercises (as described on my audio resource ‘Speed Reading for Success’).
  • Hum quietly to yourself as you read.
  • Gently bite your tongue or press it to the roof of your mouth as you read.
  • Listen to ambient music (this leaves less room for the voice in your head).

It is important to try each method for a reasonable period of time.

Finally, don’t worry about subvocalisation; thinking about it will just make it worse. Just push it to the back of your mind and refuse to allow yourself to depend on it for understanding.

Please leave a comment with your own question about speed reading.

To find out more, check our best-selling resource ‘Speed Reading for Success’ which you can buy from Amazon. Or download the electronic version from our website.

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