Is there a tried-and-true method to learn speed reading?

A friend of mine has started grad school and is a little overwhelmed at the amount of reading. Learning to speed read would be massively helpful to her. Is there a course you can take online or with CDs or DVDs or something that is good for this? Thanks!

Inasmuch as this is a factual question, Cecil says kinda no. At least if the material your friend will be reading is heavy on content. If it’s grad school in literature, or something, I guess you could skim some.

Thanks for that article! Good to know.

In addition to the points made in the cited Straight Dope article, it should also be noted that reading speed is limited by physically how fast your eyes can change focus across a line of text and then down. You can actually only comprehend a patch of text about two inches wide at once (try it…look at the option bar below the header on this page starting with User CP, and try to actually focus on more than two word groupings at once) and about an inch in height. Ironically, your retina can actually isolate and perceive characters faster on a vertical scan than horizontal, making Western/Arabic text harder to read than scripts that track vertically, and which is also what probably tricks speedreaders into believing their reading speed is so much faster, because if you only read the first couple of words on each line you scan at a phenomenal rate, albeit with very little comprehension. The self-proclaimed page-at-a-glance readers are either completely full of crap or have an ocular construction that needs to be heavily studied by anatomoists everywhere.

As for tricks to accelerate reading, with technical books and papers it is sometimes useful to skim through the paper quickly, looking for salient words or jargon, and then go back through and concentrate more heavily on the paragraphs in question. However, this is largely because technical works (especially many textbooks) tend to have a format that has defined areas of glurgage and an experienced reader can just filter them out, which is really more an indication of poor editing. (Seriously, do I need to know the calibration history on your Deocyclophenomenegazzer is if the data is all consistent with predictions?) I suppose the same is probably true in a lot of social sciences publications, but try doing that with a novel or poem and you’ll likely lose the essence of what the author is trying to convey.


For humanities essays: Read the intro, find the thesis statement, and read the conclusion. If time, read the transitions between sections.

My father took a mail-order speed-reading course when he was young. He said they told him to move his eyes faster. That is not a joke. He also said it worked.

The one I tried told me to move my lips faster.

The idea of speed reading poerty seems very wrong. Kind of like funneling a good Bordeaux.

There is a 5 part speed reading intro on youtube (10 minutes each) that is worth checking out. It is an exercise that gets you to get in the habit of moving your eyes faster. In the self test I was able to double my WPM before and after, then when I went to read some mystery novel immediately afterwards was able to breeze through it fast.

However, it’s only a short term phenomenon. The lecture says you have to do the drills all the time to improve – which I never did. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know.

As for the reading in Grad School, for me and my fake graduate degree (MBA) I had to read tons of Harvard Business Review Journals. My first month it took me like 5 hours to get through a 20ish page journal and comprehend it (then sorta remember it for class). By the end of my grad school career (3 years later) I could breeze through them in 5 minutes and retain them a few weeks later. I just naturally learned to be more efficient in reading it, and as I because more familiar with business related concepts things just started to click quicker without having to read and re-read paragraphs for comprehension.

All joking aside, moving one’s lips while reading (called “sub-vocalization”) is one of the most common causes of slow, ineffective reading. Research shows that faster readers understand what they read better. Even today, many children’s teachers unfortunately treat reading as a speaking task.

Everything I’ve ever read about speed-reading essentially boils down to this: stop hearing the individual words in your head as though you’re reading them out loud.

Speed reading is the wrong approach. Have her check out the bit here about how to read a book in an hour.

This is exactly how I read. Yep, I’m fairly slow, but very comprehensive.

Since we’re in GQ, I’m going to ask you for a cite.

Do you have a cite for that?

Seriously, according to associate professor Kenneth Holmqvist at Lund Universtiy and others, speed reading is essentially a con trick – there’s no such thing. “The eye is not a camera … it is physiologically impossible to see more than one word sharply at one time.” The eye focuses by jerks and every “focus” takes a quarter of a second. He also says that trying not to read by your “inner voice” is probably harmful for reading comprehension. Cite. Sorry, not in English, I just happened to read this earlier this year.

This is old news:

Brown, B. L., Inouye, D. K., Barrus, K. B., & Hansen, D. M. (1981). A social psychology of rapid reading. In J. R. Edwards
(Ed.), The Social Psychology of Reading. Language and Literacy Monograph Series (pp. 29-50). Silver Spring: Institute of
Modern Languages.
Carver, R.P. (1985). How good are some of the world’s best readers? Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 389-419.
Carver, R.P. (1990). Reading rate: a review of research and theory. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Cranney, G., Brown, B. L., Hansen, D. M. & Inouye D. K. (1982). Rate and reading dynamics reconsidered. Journal of
Reading, 25, 526-533.
Homa, D. (1983). An assessment of two extraordinary speed-readers. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 21, 123-126.
McLaughlin, G. H. (1969). Reading at impossible speeds. Journal of Reading, 12, 449-454, 502-510.
Spache, George D. (1962). Is this a breakthrough in reading? The Reading Teacher, 15, 258-262.

N.B.: The purpose of several of those references above was to distinguish between dubious commercial “speed reading” methods and simple rapid reading. The general consensus is that readers who comprehend better tend to read faster. The idea is that

The idea is that by training the eye upon each word separately you impede the
cognitive process of quickly connecting ideas, and that reading quickly
facilitates better global comprehension.

Reading material set up to be read as one-word-at-a-time is even HARDER to comprehend if the person creating the text happens to leave out one of the words, like, say, “quickly”. :wink:

Anecdote alert

My mother speed reads. She can’t stop herself and sometimes wishes she could. I doubt she learned a method for this but rather just picked up the habit through excessive novel reading in her youth. She can literally pick up a new book in the evening and finish it before she goes to bed. When I asked how she did it, she explained that she only reads/skims through the middle two inches of the page, entirely skipping the edges.

The disadvantages of this is that, firstly, it gives her headaches, but most importantly she frequently misses crucial plot developments or character names, which can make a story rather confusing.

“I think the guy in the hat did something terrible.