The speed reading fallacy: the case for slow reading - Deepstash

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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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Ness Labs provides content, coaching, courses and community to help makers put their minds at work. Apply evidence-based strategies to your daily life, discover the latest in neuroscience research, and connect with fellow curious minds.

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