Is Speed Reading a Waste of Time? | Iris Reading
Is Speed Reading a Waste of Time?

Is Speed Reading a Waste of Time?

Is Speed Reading a Waste of Time?

Speed reading is effective if you aim to cover lots of text within a short time. You use the peripheral eye to go through texts fast. If you want to retain much of what you read, accuracy and understanding are traded off when you speed read. 

It is impossible to speed read technical texts that you do not understand. The only way to hack speed reading is to read more to build your vocabulary and language skills.

Students, researchers, and anyone wishing to master the skill of speed reading might want to get through lots of readings available today. 

Students and researchers want to read tons of empirical study findings, while readers will want to take in as much text to stay ahead of the pack. 

Avid readers would love to know when to speed read and how fast they can read. 

This post will tell you the basics of speed reading and how effective speed reading is to different categories of people. Depending on the context, we will also review why reading faster might be a waste of time.

The basics of speed reading

Speed reading is the art of absorbing chunks of texts voraciously rather than subvocalizing each word you read. We have so much to read, and the internet has made this possible. 

Speed reading promises to triple your average reading pace of 250 words per minute. Some different techniques or basics are tenets to speed reading.

First, avoid subvocalizing by focusing on groups of sentences rather than individual words. 

Next, use the pointer method, where you point to words with your finger to read through the text. A similar basic technique is to use a pen to underline sentences, especially topic sentences, as you read. 

The third technique is skimming through text before re-reading where necessary. Scan writings divergently rather than in a line, and do not linger on words. Also, read the title, subheadings, and topic sentences to get the major points of a piece of writing. Look for keywords.

Other rules are concentration and avoiding distractions.

Proponents of speed-reading classes argue that by practicing digesting more visual texts at a quick glimpse and suppressing the vocalizations that often happen while we read silently, we may greatly enhance our reading speed without affecting our grasp of the subject.

And now that text can be presented more dynamically on digital devices rather than on paper, new types of text presentation will allow us to read faster and with more comprehension.

The most widely used of these methods, the rapid serial visual presentation, quickly displays words on a computer screen one at a time (RSVP). Since we don’t have to move our eyes, we can read faster than we normally would. 

Another way is to highlight the texts we are reading with different colors, which helps avoid skipping lines or repeating sentences, thus improving reading speed. When reading normally, we naturally look back at texts we read before to link them to what we are currently reading for better comprehension.

Does speed reading actually work?

Speed reading does work, but it depends on your reading goal and mastery of the language, determined by how well-read you are. Your pace, comprehension, and coherence of the text are hinged on how easy it is for you to digest large texts and recognize the most important words.

Reading is looking through writings to learn something new or to get information. On the other hand, skimming is hovering over texts looking for specific words to get an overview of the text. Thus, speed reading cannot be equated to reading because reading is a deep understanding of the text, while skimming is fast-paced to get a general idea. 

Scientific facts and empirical findings dispute the art of speed reading for comprehension. For them, speed reading is limited by visual acuity and saccades- rapid ballistic eye motions. Only the eye fovea has a high understanding. In 4 to 5 seconds, you will read 7 to 8 words, averaging 280 words per minute. Reading in thousands per minute is biologically impossible.

Also, reading is not about vision alone. There is the element of text repetition to comprehend text, bringing together sentences and getting meaning from them.

They disagree with the notion of some speed reading programs on the ability to use peripheral vision to read large portions of a page voraciously, or even an entire page, rather than one word at a time.

Still, people like Ann Jones can get through 3700 words per minute, and  Howard Berg, 80 pages per 60 seconds

A different study scored RSVP reading low on comprehension, for more than 450 wpm.

Who needs to speed read?

Lawyers, doctors, and doctorate students speed read to curate many texts and get a general idea of the text. For them, excellent grammar skills and a deeper understanding of terminologies and jargon allows them to skim different material, and that is required in these fields.

Speed reading works well for those who need to quickly absorb a lot of information. Also, people who have difficulty staying focused for a long time, such as those with a short attention span, will find speed reading helpful.

Readers who find it difficult to swiftly identify words are a third group that benefits from speed reading. 

Additionally, physicians, lawyers, and Ph.D. students need to read many documents or publications for a certain purpose. 

Court clerks and stenographers type fast and find speed reading helpful to cross-check typed work.

There is a redundancy of texts that could be bypassed when reading in all these cases.

Why learning to read faster might be a waste of time

If visual information arrives faster than the brain comprehension system can digest, the enhanced reading speed is wasted on poor comprehension. Still, with practice and expanded vocabulary, reading speed can be increased. We may never increase fixation and eye movements, but we can better the number of words we understand and improve reading speed over time.

Like athletes in sports, artists and musicians practice perfecting their skills, reading a wide variety of writings speeds up your word intake. You exercise your cognitive ‘muscles.’ Become a book fanatic like Theodore Roosevelt, who read four books a day before bedtime.

Instances where speed reading might not work

  • Speed reading will not work if you read technical or scholarly articles and journals. Readers must read these slowly to internalize the subject, most of what you read, and be smart.
  • People with short attention spans cannot speed read. Speed reading requires the reader to concentrate for long periods as they peruse and take in the texts. 
  • Poor readers or those with little or no reading experience will have difficulties in speed reading. For the most part, speed reading relies on the vocabulary built over a wide range of reading.
  • Poor visualization also deters speed reading. Visualization is core in speed reading. You go through chunks of words and visualize the text.

If you are unfamiliar with terminologies used in what you are reading, speed reading won’t work. Texts with lots of jargon will require time and research of the meaning of words, thereby slowing you down. Thus, you cannot speed read what you don’t understand.


The advantage of speed reading for entrepreneurs, scholars, and avid readers is the ability to scour through lots of writings to get an overview of the topic.

While speed reading is complicated for poor readers with limited vocabulary, it is helpful to people who must peruse lots of text for research, fun, work, or school purposes.

To fast pace your reading, choose writings you understand. Skim with an intent to find keywords, and scan through the headings and subheadings. You may not get deep into the writings, but you’ll understand the major points discussed.

The Iris free mini-course on speed reading can get you started.

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