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The speed reading fallacy: the case for slow reading

https://nesslabs.com/speed-reading

nesslabs.com

The speed reading fallacy: the case for slow reading
Speed reading promises to help anyone read at speeds of above 1000 words per minute. Sounds fantastic. The problem? It’s completely bogus.

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Speed reading

Speed reading
  • Speed reading promises to help anyone read at speeds of above 1000 words per minute with full comprehension.
  • The average college-level reader read at the speed of 200-400 words per minute.
  • In 1959, Evelyn Wood launched Reading Dynamics, said to increase a reader's speed by a factor of three to ten times while improving comprehension. The business was a success and eventually spread worldwide.

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How speed reading works

Speed reading uses methods such as chunking, scanning, reducing subvocalization, and using meta guiding. For example, reading the first sentence of each paragraph can indicate if it's worth reading more or to move on. Or guiding your eye by using your finger.

Some researchers looked into speed reading and found there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy.

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Speed reading and information retention

Speed reading can help you skim to content, which is useful at times. However, speed reading cannot help you read faster and retain more information.

  • Our eyes are designed only to see a tiny portion of our visual field with the precision needed to recognise a letter in a 10 to 12 point font. Everything outside that small area is blurry. The idea promoted by speed reading that we can use our peripheral vision to see whole sentences is biologically impossible.
  • While we spend most of our time reading forward, our eyes often go back to reread some text. This is the way our brain links content together. Speed reading attempts to help you read faster by showing one word at a time. This has a bad impact on overall comprehension.

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Three types of reading

  • Mental reading is when you sound out each word in your head. This is the slowest form of reading.
  • Auditory reading is when you listen to an audiobook. This reading is almost twice as fast as mental reading, at about 450 words per minute.
  • Visual reading is when you understand the meaning of the words without sounding them out or hearing them, with a reading speed of 700 words per minute.

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The case for slow reading

Instead of aiming for speed, we should optimise for comprehension and retention.

  • Slow reading has a positive impact on your anxiety levels.
  • It may help you read more, as you can take the time to enjoy what you read.
  • It will improve your learning. Your brain can make useful connections between current and previous content.

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The Problem With Some Speed Reading Software

Software using rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) methods claim to eliminate unnecessary eye movements, thus increasing reading speed. It presents words above the average reading speed, one at a time, at a single location on the screen.

Unfortunately, experiments show RSVP software does increase reading speed, but subjects could only sustain reading at high speeds with good comprehension for short bursts.

The Flaw With Methods That Eliminate Regressive Eye Movements

This methods are supposed to let you read it right the first time, but regressive eye movements generate enhanced understanding beyond what could be obtained on the first pass.

Due to sentences unfolding linearly, often contrary to the messages they convey, rereading becomes necessary for proper understanding.

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Slow Is Good

The speed-reading habit is making us lose our deep attention and focus, gradually shunning denser, more complicated content. Instead of optimizing for speed, we need to optimize for comprehension, deep understanding, and retention of information.

Deep or slow reading, when the brain is attentive, absorbing, understanding and analyzing text expands our attention span and improves concentration and learning.

Better, Not Faster Reading

The brain develops stronger analytical skills and gets into critical thinking mode, forming new connections and even creates new ideas.

Deep focusing on a book is one of the best investments of your time.

Rebecca Treiman - Psychology PhD

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Human Body X Speed Reading

The fovea is a small high visual acuity area in the retina. Our eyes are seriously limited in their precision outside said area.

We can take in only a word or so at each glance, and a little bit about the words on either side. 

Multiple experiments confirm that speed reading,” leads to decreased comprehension of the parts of the text that reader's eyes skip over.

Rebecca Treiman - Psychology PhD

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“The factor that most strongly determined reading speed was word-identification ability.”