Posted by: wordsmithsuk | December 12, 2011

How to make the eyes move faster when you read


Most people make two wrong assumptions about what their eyes are doing when they read.

  • They believe that their eyes read much faster than is actually the case (the average adult reading speed on even light material is between 150 and 240 words per minute
  • They assume that the eyes glide smoothly from left to right when they read.

But what the eyes actually do is to move in little jumps.

There are 130 million light receivers at the back of the eye – this in an area no larger than a thumbnail. Each of these light receivers decodes hundreds of light bundles of energy per second. Some cells respond to specific colours, others to overall light intensity. At the centre of the retina is the fovea –a tiny area in which the cells are much more tightly packed than elsewhere. Here, 2,000 cones and rods are crammed into a space less than a tenth of a millimetre square.

Our perception is much sharper and finer at the fovea than anywhere else on the retina. When you look directly at something, the light from that object falls directly on the fovea, so you can see it clearly. If you’re looking at a line of print from a distance of two feet, you can see only a few letters perfectly at any one time – this is your focused vision. The area around the outside of the fovea, where the vision is less clear, is your peripheral vision.

If our eyes really moved over print in a smooth manner, they wouldn’t be able to take anything in. This is because the eye can only see things clearly when it can look at them directly: it has to hold them still. So for the eye to take in words, it has to pause on each word, or group of words, before moving on. To read a whole sentence or paragraph, they have to move in a series of quick jumps and stops.

The jumps themselves are very quick, but the stops (or fixations) can last from a quarter of a second to one and a half seconds. People who normally read slowly have to jump after each word – and they tend to stop for longer and back-skip more often than faster readers. This is hard work and very boring.

You can use what we know about reading eye movements to help you read faster.

  1. Take in groups of words Each time you let your eyes rest, take in as many as three to five words at a time. It’s not just faster: it also makes comprehension easier. This is because, when we read a sentence, we don’t read it for the individual meaning of each word, but rather for the meaning of whole phrases.
  2. Make shorter fixations A fixation is the time you allow the eye to rest before moving on. The time for each fixation can be reduced to at least a quarter of a second. Eventually you should be able to read a whole line of text in less than a second. You need not fear that this is too short a time, for your eye is able to register many words in a micro-second.
  3. Keep moving forward People back skip because they lack confidence in their ability to understand what they are reading in one go. But you should be able to take in at least 90% of the information the first time you read it. If it’s important to understand the other 10%, you can always go back over it a second time.
  4. Keep your eye on the page If you discipline yourself to keep focused on the line of text, and don’t allow your eye to wander off the page, you will be less distracted and less likely to lose concentration.
There is no better way to learn speed reading than from an experienced coach. My training sessions are practical, interactive and fun and they give you the tools to read faster with good comprehension. Call me to arrange coaching or training for you or your team – you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve!
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