The Truth About Speed Reading

Most of us face information overload on a daily basis thanks to the Internet, mobile devices, television, media, and a million other sources bombarding us with images and text. Even a few minutes of browsing the web can present more information than you could possibly hope to tackle in hours of reading. Or could you? Advocates of speed reading claim that by using their methods, readers can zip through hundreds of pages worth of information, with great comprehension, in only a matter of minutes. Sound too good to be true? Like many things that promise great rewards with little effort, speed reading isn't quite the amazing practice it claims to be and may actually make things more difficult when comprehension counts (like for college courses or at work). Read on to learn more about speed reading, and get a little insight into the reality of what it can and can't do for your reading abilities.

What Is Speed Reading?

You've likely heard a lot about speed reading but may not know exactly what it is or what techniques it uses to achieve faster reading speeds. Speed reading isn't just a single practice but a collection of methods that aims to help readers increase their rates of reading without compromising comprehension or retention. Some of these methods include:

Some speed reading instructionals will also stress the importance of environmental factors like lighting and comfort as well as the posture of the reader (allowing for more oxygen intake and thus flow to the brain).

The Claims

A lot of claims have been made about speed reading, some ridiculous and some much more down-to-earth. Here is a sampling.

The Reality

By now you should have a good idea of what speed reading is and what it has been claimed to be able to offer readers, but you're probably wondering if any of this is really true. The answer is both yes and no, depending on the claims being made. Don't worry, we'll explain.

First, no matter what speed reading programs claim, there is no real distinction between speed reading and normal reading. Why? We all use some of the basic speed reading techniques at different levels, even those of us who aren't especially fast readers.

Second, there is no way to read an incredibly large number of words per minute without losing some comprehension, and in some cases a lot of comprehension. The faster you read, the less you'll understand. There is always a trade off, even though practice can help lessen the impact. Certain types of reading will be more appropriate for speed reading than others that require close concentration and attention to detail. If a speed reading program tells you otherwise, you're probably being bamboozled.

Essentially, many speed reading methods can help you read faster, but you will never achieve the 2,000 words per minute some claim to be able to read. In fact, most experts believe that the max that most people can read per minute with decent comprehension is 600 words, far from what speed readers claim to be able to do (which most experts think isn't actually reading but just skimming). Need some science to back that up? Here are a few studies to think about.

The bottom line? Speed reading techniques can help improve your reading speeds, but if you're reading too fast you're likely to miss out on critical content. This may make it a bad fit for those who need to take in technical papers or perform critical analyses of a given text but may work for those who just need a general idea of what an article is about. It's all about give and take when it comes to speed reading, but at the end of the day the research seems to support the old adage that "slow and steady wins the race," even in our information-overloaded society.

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