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Does speed reading work?

“Content is the king”, “Information overload”, “Separating signal from noise”

Gone are the days when news agencies rely on newspapers only.

Gone are the days when Advertisers rely on TV slots only.

And similarly, gone are the tough days for everyone who wants your attention.

Each one of them has now multiple mediums to share the content.

Newspaper, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Emails, articles, blogs, media channels, books, eBooks and so on.

This means not only you have multiple stories to deal with but multiple viewpoints and mediums as well.
But this also means that you have a choice of medium, choice of time.

And this is the reason, we use phrases like “Content is the king”, “Information overload”, “Separating signal from noise”
The content has become 1000X, but the time remains the same and our eyeballs remain the same.
Worse, our patience decreased.

Now, what if you have a power to quickly browse the content?
How much more could you get done if you completed all of your required reading in 1/3 or 1/5 the time?

The answers to these questions lead me to Speed-Reading.
But is Speed-Reading a miracle or just a hoax?

In this post, I’ll share the methods I used for Speed Reading and a result I get after a month.

To set the baseline, one should know our reading speed. For which I took a couple of reading tests


I liked the former cause it has questions at the end to measure the comprehensive ability as well

Taking an average, its 276 words per minute for me – Maybe pretty slow, Average college student speed is 450 wpm

To save myself from the embarrassment of being a slow reader, I read tons of articles & researches and even a book “Breakthrough Rapid Reading” by Peter Kump around this topic.

Now there were some bogus techniques.
Some clickbait articles - the ones like “How to read a book in two hours” and then they will share a 50 pager book…exactly, that sucks

But definitely, there are certain legit techniques, scientific methods used by the peoples. 
Below are the ones I tried and my opinions on them – 

·      Prepare your mind– Take a deep breath to help create a resourceful and superior state of mind. Also, avoid distractions, take a break (if needed) only after 20-minutes of sitting

(Opinion – Since I am already an avid reader who like to skip to a peaceful environment to enjoy my reading so this one does not have much impact on me)

·      Quick scan– While reading, there are specific areas in the text which can be your friend like index, reviews, summary in the book, sub-headlines within the newspapers, bullet points in the articles, bold fonts in the emails etc. Identify these ‘friends’ and use them to get the idea what the text is about, without even reading the actual content   

(Opinion – This acted as a game changer for me. Not in terms of speed reading but in terms of choosing what not to read. Now I can skim through certain sections of articles and books and basis they decide should I continue or not)

·      Identify writing style – If you are reading a long blog post or a book, after a few minutes, you will be able to recognize the writing patterns. There’s a story at the beginning of the chapter, there’s an image for every new section in the blog post and so on. Basis your understanding and comfort level, you can be prepared for the upcoming content 

(Opinion – While this helped me a lot in reading certain books like Mastery by Robert Greene but was not of much help in article reading where Fear of Missing out defeated the purpose and I go through complete text)

·      Use a pointer - Without something to guide your eyes, it becomes difficult to stay fixed at a particular spot on the page you are reading. All it takes is a blink of the eyes, a sneeze or any other minor distraction and your eyes go off the page. Just use a finger, pen or cursor (if you are online) to point out 

(Opinion – Using a pointer while reading reminded me of school days but this tip boosted my reading speed to a certain extent)

·      Eliminate sub-vocalization - Sub-vocalizing is merely hearing yourself read. This habit is formed because most people learn to read by speaking the words out loud when they are young. As a result, their mind starts subconsciously vocalizing any piece of text they read. So, you hear that little voice in your head narrating the text as you read it out. One way to eliminate this is to move the pointer quicker than the pace at which you hear the words in your head

(Opinion – Using a pointer while reading reminded me of school days but this tip boosted my reading speed to a certain extent)

·      Use your vision span– We have this tendency of reading a text word by word. This means your eye only focuses on a single word at a time. The average eye span is 4 centimetres, which means you can read up to three words on either side of a word. Let’s take a one-liner for example – 

“I am hereby trying to learn speed reading with a hope of getting positive results”

If you start reading from trying unto on you’ll cover the sentence, thanks to the span of your vision. This means reading 9 words instead of 15 in the above example.  

(Opinion – Some people claim it to be very effective but I found it really hard to transition from reading word-by-word to reading groups of words. It interfered with my reading comprehension)

·      Read under time pressure– This commonly used method requires you to read a given amount of material in a certain amount of time. For example, you may train yourself to read a page in a book in a minute

(Opinion –On using a speed reading app, I probably got the gist of a piece of text, but struggled to recall a detail about what I’ve just read)

·      Using Speed reading software– I tried Spreeder here. Spreeder allows you to copy and paste anything you'd like into a small word processor. The app then takes whatever you've already pasted and turns it into its own exercise, allowing you to pick and choose exactly what you'd like to both read and practice on all in the same app

(Opinion – Initially it reduced my comprehension but after a while, I get used to it. Although, would not recommend this one for the books which require thinking or which you want to enjoy. Otherwise, it’s a good technique especially while reading articles as by making a time-bound reading I stopped digressing and opening new tabs)

But reading is not quickly going over the text, we use a word ‘Skimming’ for that. 
To make most of your reading, you should comprehend it well.

Following steps helped me in comprehending whatever I read – 

Making notes– If I am reading a physical book then I prefer writing in marginalia or attach the stickies, summarizing the concept, action item for me and thing I learnt if any.

Summarizing– I’ve developed a habit of making a summary of the books I read and this way it helps me to revisit and understand the key concepts

Association– Can I associate a book or an article to my current read? If yes, then it will be a good opportunity to identify the common ideas or opposing ones. If not, then it’s a good opportunity to explore this topic further

Questions to ponder– Your real-life application of whatever you have found useful from your reading comes from here

Where do I go from here?
What's(are) my Next Step(s)?
How can I use these readings to add/compound/multiply value in my life?

Discussing – Discussing the topics with others, taking their views, sharing our understanding can be a great way to comprehend the stuff you read

So, does speed reading work?

It depends on what you’re reading and why you need to read it. 
There’s always going to be a trade-off between speed and comprehension

That means that in some situations, like scanning a news article or skimming over a blog post, speed reading is fine.
But if you need to really get to understand the concept or observe the writing style or absorb the content then speed reading might not help you
And if you just want to sit down and enjoy a good book, why bother rushing?

It’ll be more like a Woody Allen joke - “I read ‘War and Peace’ in 20 minutes,” he says. “It’s about Russia.”

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