How Important Is Reading Speed?
Reading speed determines how fast you can access information. So reading fast helps you access information more quickly, helping you stay on top of the information that your success depends on.
Reading is an important skill that helps you access information. However, reading at a leisurely pace may not be practicable.
As a student awaiting an examination or as a working professional with a looming deadline, it can feel like there is so much to read but so little time available. That is why it is vital to improve your reading speed.
In this detailed article about speed reading, we’ll discuss why reading fast is very important. We’ll also tell you what hinders speed reading and how to improve your reading speed.
Let’s start the discussion with a definition of speed reading.
What is speed reading?
Speed reading is the process of reading super-fast without losing comprehension.
Speed reading is not simply reading fast. Reading fast is being at, or just above, the upper end of the average reading rate. Speed reading is reading well above that upper end.
Actually, it means reading at super speed while comprehending what is read. So, it is more like a super-hero skill.
Think of The Flash of DC Comics. He does not run fast. He runs at super-speed without feeling dizzy. It’s the same with speed reading. With this skill, you’ll not just read fast. Instead, you’ll read at super-speed without losing comprehension.
Thus, there are two elements in the definition of speed reading:
- Super-speed. Read at super-human rapidly
- Comprehension. Understand what you read.
Breezing through a reading material at super speed is meaningless if you do not comprehend what you read.
Sadly, when increasing reading speed, there’s a point where comprehension starts to dip. Speed reading is about increasing reading speed up to but not exceeding that point.
Loss of comprehension defeats the goal of reading. So, speed reading is about finding the right balance between reading rapidly without sacrificing comprehension.
How important is reading rate?
How much information you can access in a specific unit of time is intricately linked to your reading rate/ speed.
The reading rate is how many words you can read in a specific unit of time. It is generally measured in words per minute (wpm). This means that your reading rate is the number of words you can read (from a printed or electronic text) in one minute.
Also, reading helps you access information. So, the more words you can read per minute, the more information you can access in that time.
What are good reading speeds?
The normal reading rate is 100 – 400 wpm (words per minute). This makes the average reading rate, for full comprehension, about 250 wpm.
- People who want to memorize or analyze something tend to read texts very slowly at about 100 – 150 wpm. This is often accompanied by many re-readings and/or pauses for note-taking.
- People who want a complete understanding of a text read it slowly to moderately at about 150 – 250 wpm. This often requires re-reading.
- People who just need to get the general gist of a text read it fast, at about 300 – 400 wpm.
These reading rates do not sacrifice comprehension. So, you’ll achieve a complete understanding of a text when your reading rate is 100 – 400 wpm.
Speed reading aims to help you perform well above this normal range. It will help you read 400 – 700 wpm with total concentration.
The good speedsters can read at a speed of 1,000 wpm. But this often comes with a dip in comprehension, to about 85% comprehension.
Why should you learn to read faster?
Reading faster does more than help you access information faster. It has many other benefits like improving brain power, promoting concentration, giving you more opportunities, and more.
Ten reasons why you should learn to read faster are:
- Gain access to more information. The most obvious benefit of reading faster is that it helps you take in more information in less time.
- Promote concentration and focus. While reading at super-fast speed, you’ll also task yourself with understanding what is read by concentrating more. This improves your ability to concentrate and focus on tasks.
- Promote visualization while reading. One of the things that you improve when learning to read fast is how information is fed to the eyes. You learn to expand your peripheral vision so that you can read some words in a line without actually focusing on them.
- Gain more knowledge. The more information you can access, the more knowledge you’ll gain. By reading faster and accessing more information, your knowledge increases.
- Open up the mind to more ideas. This stems from having more knowledge. As a result of accessing more information and knowing more, your mental understanding and awareness become better. Your mind will be able to conceive things or work out possibilities better.
- Access more opportunities. By helping you gain more knowledge and opening your mind to new ideas, reading faster gives you more options.
- Improve time management. A higher reading rate will allow you to read materials in less time than you normally would. It saves you time that you can use for other productive activities or even for self-care activities.
- Enjoy reading. Information overload is one thing that makes reading seem like a strenuous activity. But with the ability to read fast without losing comprehension, the “truckload” of material you have to read will become significantly smaller. That will make reading the material less tortuous and even more enjoyable.
- Make you more confident. Speed reading helps you stay on top of the information that your success depends on, bringing confidence. For example, as a student, you’ll be more confident about success in a forthcoming examination if you know you’ll be able to cover all materials without sacrificing comprehension. You’ll feel more confident about facing your boss in the workplace if you know you can successfully digest all relevant documents and have the information at your call.
- Improve your brainpower. Reading improves brain power because of neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s ability to rewire itself to adapt to new circumstances. As you read and feed new information to the brain, new connections are created between the neurons in the brain, enabling it to process the information.
Reading faster and feeding more information to the brain makes more neutral connections, and former connections are strengthened. A brain with more and stronger connections is a more powerful brain.
How to improve your reading speed
You can improve your reading rate by employing techniques that improve how information is fed to the eyes, reduce subvocalization, and minimize regressive eye movements.
Before discussing how to improve reading speed, it is essential to talk about the things that stand in the way of reading fast. It will help you understand better how each speed reading technique works.
Things that hinder speed reading
1. Presentation of information to the eye
The anatomy of the eye means that it can focus on only a few words with clarity. The fovea in the retina is where eyesight is sharpest. When your gaze is on a text, the only part you can see clearly is the part hitting the fovea. Unfortunately, this spans about 4 to 5 words.
For this reason, when reading, the eyes do not glide through the line. Rather, they move in saccades, taking in about 4 – 5 words in one fixation and then move to the next 4 – 5 words.
The limited amount of words that the eye can take in at a time, and the brief stops at each visual field, slow down reading. So techniques that can help you take in more words at a time or reduce fixations will make you read faster.
Subvocalization is the practice of speaking the words inside your head as you read. Virtually everyone does it because it is how we are taught to read. Unfortunately, it slows down reading. When you say words in your head, you’ll be able to read only as fast as you can talk.
So, techniques that can help you avoid subvocalization will help you read faster.
3. Regressive eye movement
Moving back to re-read words that have been read slows reading. People backtrack to re-read groups of words to enhance understanding. However, frequent backtracking slows down reading significantly.
Techniques that reduce regressive eye movements while reading will make you read faster.
How to jump the hurdles and improve reading speed
1. Remove distractions
How it improves reading speed: reduces regressive eye movements.
When reading, try to do it in an environment with few distractions. There will be fewer interruptions, and you will not have to backtrack too often.
2. Increase word fluency
How it improves reading speed: reduces fixations, regressive eye movements, and subvocalization.
Increasing word fluency simply means improving your vocabulary and becoming familiar with more words. When reading for comprehension and you come across an unfamiliar word, you will do one of three things:
- Slow down and try to figure out what it is
- Backtrack and re-read the preceding words to determine the meaning of the word from the context
- Pause and look up the meaning of the word.
All three things will slow your reading. So, increasing your vocabulary will improve your reading speed because there’ll be fewer unfamiliar words that’ll slow you down.
3. Chunking words
How it improves reading speed: improves how information is fed to the eyes.
Word chunking is simply reading multiple words at one glance as opposed to reading the words one by one. One of the best ways to do this is by reading three or four words at a glance as you fly along a line.
4. Use your peripheral vision
How it improves reading speed: improves how information is fed to the brain.
Your peripheral vision is the vision occurring outside the point of fixation. To use your peripheral vision means that you do not have to fixate on every word in a line when reading.
The best way to do this is to start at the second word in each line and end at the second to the last word in the line. You catch and read the first and the last words on the line with your peripheral vision.
This improves the information fed to the eye because you’ll be able to take in more words at a time. Since there are very brief stops as the eye moves from one visual field to the next, the wider visual field means fewer stops.
After mastering “two words in and two words to the end,” you can begin at the third word in each line and end at the third word to the end. Some of the best speedsters can look at the center of the line, and catch the words to the left and right of that center point with their peripheral vision. As such, they read line by line instead of word by word.
5. Use meta guiding
How it improves reading: reduces fixations and subvocalization.
Meta guiding is visually guiding the eye using a pointer or a finger so that it moves faster along a line of text. The goal is to run your finger at a rate faster than you’ll typically read, and your eyes will follow.
This technique works because it reduces fixations as the eyes move along the lines of texts.
It also reduces subvocalization. Since subvocalization forces us to read at the rate we speak, tracing the words faster than you speak/ read will force you to stop saying them in your head and read them faster.
6. Use a speed reading tool
How it improves reading speed: reduces fixations.
The operation of the speed reading tools in the market is to flash you words at a particular speed (usually faster than your reading rate) using a Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). The goal is to read the words as they are rapidly shown on the screen.
This improves your focus and reduces fixations on words, training your eyes to catch words rapidly.
One of the best speed reading tools in the market is AccelaReader. With this tool, you’ll be able to set the number of words per minute that the tool should flash, how many words you’ll want it to flash at once, the text size, and so much more.
7. Take a speed reading course
How it improves reading speed: improves how information is fed to the eye, reduces fixations, reduces subvocalization, reduces regressive eye movement, and more.
Taking a speed reading course means having an expert to guide you in your quest to read faster. Experts know the intricacies of speed reading better, and they use this in developing programs that help people read faster. While you can improve your reading speed on your own, expert guidance flattens the learning curve.
For example, while you now know that using speed reading tools help, you may not know how to optimize their use. In the Speed Reading Foundation Course, amongst other things, you’ll learn different ways to maximize the use of the AccelaReader speed reading tool.
Also, in the Speed Reading Mastery Course, amongst other things, you’ll receive essential eye training and learn many time-tested methods of increasing reading speed, such as the 20% method and the IRIS method.
Reading speed is very important because it determines how fast you can access information. The faster you read, the quicker you access information. That comes with many benefits, such as gaining more knowledge, opening your mind up to more ideas, giving you more opportunities, helping you improve your focus, and more.
However, with the normal reading speed being 100 – 400 wpm, speed reading at 400 – 700 wpm, or even faster, is a skill you must learn. You can do so by chunking words, using peripheral vision, meta guiding, a speed reading tool, and taking special speed reading courses.
Talking of expert courses, make sure you do not miss the Personal Productivity Course. It’s a course that has helped both students in Ivy League schools and working professionals in Fortune 500 companies to do more in less time.