What is Speed Reading?

Speed reading is the act of using set techniques (such as ‘meta guiding’) to increase one’s words read per minute (WPM). The national average reading speed is said to be around 250 WPM, which would see you get through Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird in a sluggish 396 minutes, or 6 hours and 36 minutes. And that’s if you read it all in one go! So, by practising the speed reading methods that work for you, you can realistically increase your speed to around 800 WPM whilst maintaining maximum comprehension.

This would see you finish To Kill A Mockingbird in 124 minutes, or 2 hours and 4 minutes. That’s a time saving of 4 hours and 32 minutes. This is why so many people choose to pursue the art of speed reading. As you may be aware, people take speed reading incredibly seriously. Every year around the world, competitions take place where readers reach incredible speeds, racing against their rivals. In fact, there are many people who claim to be able to read upwards of 20,000 WPM or even faster – although some studies have disputed whether it is possible to retain information when ‘reading’ at such speeds.

In any case, while people have shown the ability to maintain comprehension while reading incredibly quickly, it is surely impossible for this ability to be learned or taught. It seems people can just naturally do it. All us mere mortals are able to do is work hard to increase our speeds as much as we can! Luckily, this is definitely something you can do to achieve results, and cut time as we discussed earlier. So, let’s look at the first step that you should take when aiming to increase your reading speeds – sub-vocalisation.

Speed Reading Technique – Reducing Sub-vocalisation

The first step you should take when aiming to increase your reading speed is to reduce sub-vocalisation. Let’s start by discussing what this means! While ‘sub-vocalisation’ sounds complicated, it’s actually quite a simple concept to grasp. You’ll already be familiar with it – it’s what most people do whenever they read anything! In short, sub-vocalisation is the act of sounding out the words in your head, or ‘silently speaking’ as you read, in accordance with the way most of us were taught to read at primary school. While this logical and helps children with
comprehension, it is possible to suppress this instinct in order to increase your reading speeds.

There are a few methods you can use to reduce sub-vocalisation. The most straightforward way to do so is to practise using rapid and jerky eye movements (‘saccades’) to get through a sentence, rather than one smooth ‘tracking’ motion thatyou might currently be doing. This means that you are only actually looking at a few words in a line, and letting your peripheral vision catch the rest. Not looking at every word like this will mean that you are sub-vocalising far fewer words – only the ones you are focusing on – but are still reading and understanding everything.

Saccadic Eye Movements

Saccadic eye movements ensure that your brain does not have the time to sound out each word; you’ll have moved onto the next line before it has the chance. Of course, this reduces the amount of time it takes to finish what you’re reading! Another means of reducing sub-vocalisation is to ‘distract’ yourself while reading, by thinking about other things at the same time you are reading the text in front of you. One way to do this is by listening to ambient music that doesn’t have lyrics. It is difficult to do, but with practice you will eventually be able to train your brain to ‘listen’ to the music rather than the ‘sounds’ of sub-vocalisation, and increase your reading speed this way.

Similarly, one technique involves counting in your head while reading. Sub-vocalising numbers rather than the words you wish to read may help you as you will be forced to read without sounding the words out in your head. However, this may not work for everyone – make sure you are still taking in what you read. Experiment with this to see if it gets you results – perhaps you’d be best advised using this technique with text you only have to skim-read.

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