Speed Reading: Benefit or Impediment?

Do you remember the movie SHORT CIRCUIT from your childhood? The robot, No. 5, had a number of fun talents, including the ability to read entire books in a matter of seconds. It is a talent I have thought of on many an occasion, especially when faced with a stack of books and an impending deadline.

Of course, humans can learn to speed read, but we will never be a match for No. 5. We supposedly have the capacity to read as many as 1700 words a minute, a mind-boggling figure. However, the question is, do we really get a chance to understand and retain those words when they are flying by our eyes that quickly?

The jury is still out on this. Experts generally agree that if you are reading to learn, then speed reading is not a good idea. Your ability to read and retain information begins to deteriorate once you pass 400 words per minute. The losses in retention then accelerate dramatically from 600 words per minute and up.

However, speed reading can have one very helpful attribute. If you are speeding through blocks of text trying to find information, then you should be able to locate said words successfully. However, you should then stop and read that section at your regular speed, should you wish to retain what’s there.

If you want to improve your reading speed, one of the big things is the elimination of sub vocalization. This is the practice of saying what you’re reading. This doesn’t even have to occur out loud; you could simply be hearing the words as you read them. This can help some individuals to get a better understanding of what is on the page, but it is also slowing them down. As a first step to speeding up your reading, jettisoning this habit is key.