Speed Reading

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Speed reading refers to a number of ways to increase the speed at which a text can be read where the important facts are still understood. A trained reader is able to read and understand between 200 and 300 words per minute of basic text. Better training can improve this speed to over 1000 words per minute.

With a lot of exercise it’s possible to increase reading speed further; the best readers can read between 3000 and 4000 words per minute, and understand about 80% of them (at that speed a short novel can be read in under 20 minutes).

In general, only a small part of the letters read are seen clearly. The brain guesses what the rest of the word is based on a small part of it. This also applies to groups of words, which are treated the same way. Known groups are handled faster, because the reader knows them. A known font can also improve reading speed for this reason. Impediments to speed reading include poor short term memory or vocabulary. People who know few words, need more time to ‘scan’ unknown words.

The tachistoscope (a machine designed in the 1850s to flash images at varying rates on a screen) was part of the first modern study of speed reading. The U.S. Air Force discovered that they could flash four words simultaneously on the screen at rates of one five-hundredth of a second with full recognition by trained readers.

Following the tachistoscope discoveries, the Harvard Business School produced the first film-aided course, designed to widen the reader’s field of focus in order to increase reading speed. Again, the focus was on visual processing as a means of improvement. Using machines to increase people’s reading speeds was a trend of the 1940s.

It was not until the late 1950s that a portable, reliable and convenient device would be developed as a tool for increasing reading speed. The researcher was a school-teacher named Evelyn Wood. She utilized her hand as a pacer, and called it the ‘Wood Method,’ which was renamed to Reading Dynamics in 1958. She coined the term ‘speed reading.’

Wood’s method involves reading using a finger or pointer, such as a pen, to move under each line of text or in patterns on each page. The pacing hand or pen improves reading efficiency. With practice, some people gain increases in comprehension, speed, and enjoyment from reading books and other written material.

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