Reading Speed & Speed Reading

When I was in high school, I had a pretty solid group of close friends. The girls in this group spent so much time together that our mothers all became friends, too (the boys somehow escaped this fate). The moms used their friendship to plan a lot of things for us (I bet I went to more mother-daughter lunches than you did). This was fine. We all got along and I have wonderful memories of the things they planned for us. (Note: this makes me sound really lame but it really wasn’t – I think it was great that the moms all cared enough to plan activities for us).

Well one of the moms decided that us kids needed to take a speed reading class. We were probably juniors or seniors in high school and I guess this was a skill we would need for college. I didn’t object – I thought it would be great if I could get through my homework faster.

So every Saturday for a few weeks we all attended a speed reading class. Since we were teenagers, the class did not focus solely on speed reading but also gave us study tips and techniques. I disliked this part of the class and wish I had signed up for the adult version. But we did learn how to speed read. We would take tests that would measure our speed vs comprehension and the goal was to increase speed without losing comprehension. It basically comes down to forcing your eyes to see the words faster and, with practice, your brain learns how to process them. I actually did manage to learn this to some degree. But it takes practice and I was 17 so I’m sure I didn’t practice as much as I was supposed to (and now I’m remembering the Saturday morning ACT class the moms signed us up for once and how we would all show up at 8am on 4 hours of sleep after failing to even glance at the homework – education really is wasted on the youth, huh?).

I can’t remember how much I used the speed reading techniques in high school, but I know I used them in college when faced with a boring textbook. When I got to law school, I stopped because the casebooks were a little too dense for me to comprehend when speed reading.

The speed reading was always something I reserved for school. I always consumed my pleasure reading at a leisurely pace. And that pace is usually pretty leisurely. But lately I’ve been trying to teach myself how to read a little faster. I’m doing the best I can without sacrificing any enjoyment or comprehension. To do this, I’ve been using a bookmark to scroll down the page to keep my reading pace consistent. I’m hoping that if I do this enough, I’ll be able to read a little bit faster without the bookmark.

My end goal is simply to read more books. And if it turns out that it isn’t working, I’ll just go back to my slow reading. But it’s worth a shot.

I’m curious. Have any of you taking speed reading lessons? Have you ever tried to teach yourself to read faster? Are you happy with your reading speed?

21 thoughts on “Reading Speed & Speed Reading

  1. Jenn's Bookshelves September 8, 2010 / 9:24 am

    I taught myself to speedread when I was about 13. I simply had no patience for “slow” reading and wanted to be able to get through as many books as I could. I use it for lighter books, but slow down my pace for “serious” books. It really comes in handy!

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  2. Lu September 8, 2010 / 9:24 am

    I *can* read a lot faster than I do, but it’s a lot like running. Sure, I could run somewhere instead of walk, but gosh it makes you tired. Speed reading , or even reading more quickly, just does not make me a happier reader. I enjoy reading at a leisurely pace. I do admit, if a book is starting to annoy me but not enough to put it down, I will read a lot faster.

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  3. Maria September 8, 2010 / 9:42 am

    I’m happy with my reading speed. I’m not particularly fast and I could read more quickly, but I take a lot of pleasure from reading at a leisurely pace. Sometimes though, if I’m reading a boring passage, I will make myself go faster but not for more than a page or two.

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  4. Emily September 8, 2010 / 9:58 am

    I don’t think I read particularly slow or fast, just a normal medium speed. What I struggle with is keeping focused. I get distracted often when reading, by everything from my phone, computer, other books in the room, how many pages are left until I get to the next chapter, how many pages are left until the end of the book, daydreaming, etc.

    I think when I keep the distractions and daydreaming under control, I can read a lot more in any given amount of time.

    To help with this, I’ve been trying to leave the apartment and go read somewhere else for a few hours each weekend. My favorite spot is Panera, I go there and get lunch and then put my phone & bag away and just sit and read there. Coffee shops and parks are good too. 🙂

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  5. S. Krishna September 8, 2010 / 10:19 am

    Interesting post! I’ve never tried to teach myself to read faster, but I definitely think it’s possible. I think the key has to do with reading as much as possible – the more I read, the faster I read.

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  6. Charlie September 8, 2010 / 12:08 pm

    I tried to teach myself to read faster but it didn’t happen. What I’ve found though is that I’m reading a bit faster now simply through practice and not trying. I have to be careful not to realise I’m reading fast however, because as soon as I realise it it stops.

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  7. Linda September 8, 2010 / 12:13 pm

    I taught myself to speed read when I was in grade school. My dad had book on it. I usually read to get the jist of subject rather than complete knowledge. It comes in handy when you only need to know a little about a lot. And I use it when I read books because no one is testing me on Middlemarch or Twilight. I only need to read enough to enjoy the book for myself.

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  8. Jenny September 8, 2010 / 2:38 pm

    I’ve never officially learned how to speed read but recently I tried doing it with some books. It seemed to work for me but it’s no fun and too much work! I want to relax with a book, so for now it doesn’t work for me. =(

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  9. Amy September 8, 2010 / 2:58 pm

    Interesting! I had no idea you could take speed reading classes. I’ve read so much through my life that I think I’ve just naturally taught myself to read faster and have learned to read faster than most of my friends and family. I’ve never considered it speed reading but it probably is. It does make heavy and detailed books seem like SLOW reads though 😉

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  10. Michelle September 8, 2010 / 3:59 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone. It’s interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts. I think there is a difference between what is officially speed reading and what is just reading fast. I guess I hope that by using some of the speed reading techniques, I can just read faster. I don’t necessarily want to “speed read” everything.

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  11. Jen - Devourer of Books September 8, 2010 / 4:08 pm

    I took a speed reading class in high school too but, like you, never really practiced. I agree with Swapna that the more I read the faster I do it, just basic practice without necessarily trying to read faster. I mean, I’m probably going to read about 50 more books this year than I did the year I started my blog, and I didn’t have a one year old then.

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  12. Dominique September 8, 2010 / 9:16 pm

    It sounds like you had a fun social life in high school! 🙂 I was taught to speed read a couple of times in high school, but I really only used it during law school when skimming irrelevant bits of info to get to the relevant stuff. Occassionally I use it when reading now when I’m sick of a book and want it to be over or when a particular bit is boring me, but I don’t use it in general because I’m often tired when I’m reading anyway and end up re reading bits I haven’t absorbed etc, so I think it would make me get a bit confused.

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  13. Kristie September 8, 2010 / 10:53 pm

    I read very slowly. Basically, I read each word so I read as fast as I could speak the words aloud. I do this with leisure or educational texts. As a trained teacher, I’m supposed to encourage my students to not read every single word–rather, skimming is more appropriate for textbooks. While I’m supposed to teach them this, I don’t follow it myself. I have never been behind in reading for school, so I guess my reading speed is okay for me.

    I’ve never taken a speed reading course. But, if stuff is pretty boring, I try to get through it a little faster–doing this, I tend to miss things though 😕

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  14. Meghan September 9, 2010 / 3:58 am

    I never learned speed reading of any kind and didn’t even know there were classes on it until I started book blogging. I seem to read fairly quickly naturally, but I always put it down to practice. I’m reading noticeably faster these days without any actual effort put into it; I just read more and it seems my eyes/brain have learned to read faster as a result.

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  15. Michelle September 9, 2010 / 6:25 am

    I’m definitely not a speed reader and I’m ok with that (for the most part). I think the reason I’m ok with it is that I enjoy the anticipation of reading and seeing what’s coming next and if I blow through it, even if I’m still comprehending it at the same level, I think I might lose a bit of the love I have for reading.

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  16. Topher September 11, 2010 / 2:31 pm

    I actually wanted to take a speed-reading course a little while ago but eventually decided I’m poor. I guess my poorness decided I couldn’t take the class. Anyhow, I’m a pretty slow reader if I want to comprehend everything, and sometimes I want to read slow to savor good writing.

    I do wish that I could read faster and comprehend as much with things like coursework and news stories. I sometimes force myself to read faster, especially if it’s something unimportant, and I guess I could read faster during leisurely reads, but…I don’t. I’m a slug.

    Do you need a course to speed read?

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  17. Christopher September 14, 2010 / 12:00 pm

    Thanks for such a guiding article. I love to learn and took a profound interest in speed reading and speed reading programs a couple of years ago when I decided to go back to school. I did quite a bit of research on speed reading and programs that help with speed reading in order to help me gain the edge in school. I saw my reading speed increase from 208 to 710 in less than 3 weeks using one program in particular – the eyeQ program from Infinite Mind. I try and recommend this program to those that seeking more information about speed reading and your article is a great help to those seeking information. Thanks for the post.

    http://www.eyeQadvantage.com is their website for those interested.

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  18. Gayle September 21, 2010 / 1:14 am

    I am a pretty slow reader. Maybe not compared to the general population, but certainly compared to book bloggers (and to the commenters to this post!). I have been intrigued by the idea of a speed reading course, but I worry that I will end up missing out on the details, the writing style, the passages that move me and that make me love reading.

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  19. Vishy September 25, 2010 / 4:26 pm

    Interesting post, Michelle! I haven’t taken any speed reading classes, but I remember trying to read faster many years back. My reading speed at that time was between 40-50 pages an hour and I tried reading faster and reached around 100 pages an hour – by shutting out the outside world and focussing on the book. If I read this fast, I could follow the plot, but always forgot the finer details of the story, and also couldn’t sit back and appreciate beautiful sentences. I discovered that this kind of reading worked while reading thrillers, but not books which were a little more serious. Since then my speed has come down quite a bit – I read around 20-30 pages an hour these days. I enjoy reading with this speed now. I have accepted the fact that I won’t be able to read most books in the world and I also won’t be able to read most books that I have in my collection. It is a sad realization, but I have realized that it is easy to buy books, but difficult to read them. I buy more than 100 books every year (sometimes the number stretches even to 200), but I don’t seem to be able to finish more than 50. I have a feeling that I haven’t read around 75% of the collection I have at home and this percentage will probably increase every year. Unfortunately, that is the way life is.

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  20. Ellen September 26, 2010 / 9:07 am

    I’ve never taken a speed-reading class, but I read super-fast anyway. Not sure how it happened, but I think I’d prefer to read more slowly. I would run out of books a lot less quickly, which would always be a bonus! At the moment it would cost a lot of money to buy books as fast as I read them. I have on one occasion bought a book, read it in the shopping centre and then returned it to buy another one!

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