Speed Reading is often misunderstood. It is either seen as a waste of time or as God’s gift to students. With such radically different perspectives is it any wonder that many people are confused? The reality is that it plays a valuable part in studying but is not the answer on its own. In this article I aim to dispel some of the myths and paint what I see as a fairer picture. It is also important to point out that I’m not talking about but somewhat dubious apps advertised on the Internet. This is all about proper instructor led training following Tony Buzan’s principles.
It’s Woo-Woo Magic or Snake Oil Fakery.
There are some accelerated reading training courses which promise speeds in excess of 25,000 words per minute (wpm). If anyone can substantiate this with proper validated test results then I would love to incorporate this into our training. However, I have never seen evidence that such speeds are possible with acceptable comprehension. It doesn’t matter how fast you turn the pages if you don’t take in the information they contain.
Tony Buzan Speed Reading is based on the physiology of the eye and brain, properly researched psychology and experimentation. What’s more, it makes sense. There is no Magic or New-age pseudoscience. For example, it stands to reason that skipping backwards to re-read must slow you down. Thus, the Speed Reading concept of always going forwards logically helps you speed up. Whilst most of the techniques are not necessarily immediately obvious, in hindsight they are common sense.
It’s a Panacea for Learning.
Tony Buzan states in the Speed Reading book, “Reading is to the mind as aerobic training is to the body” but just as going to the gym doesn’t make you a professional sportsman, so reading alone does not make you a top student. You need to combine your reading with other skills to understand, memorise and recall what you read. It is a four-step process:
- Speed read material, being selective so you don’t waste time reading irrelevant stuff. (yes – ‘Stuff’ is the right technical term)
- Mind Map the key points to help understand the topic in context.
- Use mnemonic techniques to memorise data and appropriate facts.
- Make best use of your time by taking regular breaks and appropriately spaced reviews.
These four things work together synergistically. They reinforce each other to give a whole greater than the sum of each technique used in isolation. Reading alone is not a panacea, but combining with the other skills leads to easier, more effective and ultimately successful learning.
It is important to draw the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. Speed reading is not normal – very few people read above 400wpm. Average speed is around 200 – 250wpm. However, the brain can operate much faster. This is one reason why your thoughts can wander whilst Reading – it is seeking more stimulation. It is, therefore, natural for the brain to take in information at a much faster rate. i.e. speed reading!
In the past, it was thought that reading speed was an immutable measure and there was nothing you could do to change it. We now know far more about the brain’s plasticity. You can retrain your eye-brain system to dramatically improve your reading speed and efficiency. Tony Buzan tells the story of his school experience of being told he was stuck with the same reading speed for life:
“When I was 14, my class was given a battery of tests to measure our mental skills. Among them was a Speed Reading test. A few weeks later we were given our results, and I found that I had scored an average of 213wpm. My first reaction was elation, because 213 sounded like a lot. However; my joy did not last long, for our teacher soon explained that the fastest student in the class had scored 314wpm – just over 100wpm faster than my score.
This demoralising piece of news was to change my life: as soon as the class ended, I rushed up to the teacher and asked him how I could improve my speed. He answered that there was no way of doing so, and that your reading speed, like your IQ, your adult height and the colour of your eyes, was fundamentally unchangeable.
This did not quite ring true to me. Why? I had just started a vigorous physical training programme and had noticed, within a few weeks, dramatic changes in nearly every muscle of my body. If knowing the right exercises had enabled me to bring about such physical transformation, why shouldn’t the appropriate visual and mental exercises allow me to change my reading speed, comprehension and memory of what I had read?
These questions launched me on a search that soon had me cracking the 400wpm barrier and eventually reading comfortably at speeds of over 1000wpm.”