Speed Read Painlessly
Speed reading is great. A few years ago, I bought Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump. It’s a well-written guide outlining step-by-step exercises to improve your reading speed. I practiced the exercises prescribed in the book and quickly doubled my reading speed. However, the techniques are not particularly well suited for reading on a computer screen.
For example, one of the common constraints to reading speed Kump tries to fix is the problem with eye fixation. Many people look and fixate on a word at a time when they read. On average, people can fixate once about ¼ of a second. For many people, fixating on each word as they read creates an upper limit on their reading potential. Kump’s solution is to have you read by following the movement of a pencil under the words.
By fixating on the pencil and reading as you sweep the pencil across, you can eliminate that upper limit on your reading speed. However, I do not want to spend all day waving a pencil across a monitor. 6 months ago, I began looking for a better way.
A Brief Background
Proper reading (what some people call speed reading) involves using our visual part of your brain, yet most people don’t read this way. Typically, people read by treating each word as a seperate “concept” that needs to be processed. This is wrong. A quick way to tell if your doing this is to see if you fixate on each word as you read them.
Evolution has optimized our visual processing for survival, which makes it one of the most powerful parts of our brain. Furthermore, memories processed by the visual part of our brain have been shown to be easier for us to store and retrieve.
One study demonstrated that most people, when given only a brief moment to look at a picture or scene, could visualize and recall most of what they saw, even days later. When thinking visually, our information processing becomes quicker and parrellelized. retention and retrieval of that information is heightened. The idea is to start processing how we read much like how we see.
The main qualities that stop most people from reading at their full potential is eye fixation, sub-vocalization (reading words out loud or in your head), and poor peripheral utilization (effectively using your peripherals to read lines of text greatly reduces the need for excessive fixation).
(Sub-vocalization in your head involves saying in your head what you are reading. When you see an apple, you don’t say in your head “Apple”, instead you simply know it’s any apple because of the visual connection. But often, when we read, we read the word “Apple”, say “Apple” in our head as we are reading it, and then finally make the visual connection. This is very innefficient.)
Get To It Already!
During my research into better methods, I stumbled across a simple tool that allows effortless speed reading practice at your computer.
The tool a is free web-app called Spreeder.
Spreeder allows you to quickly copy and paste text into a box, and then it flashes that text to you at your desired speed. It’s extremely simple to use and integrate into your reading flow. The Spreeder website also has some great articles talking about speed reading if you are interested in reading more on the subject.
Spreeder helps eliminate sub-vocalization and eye fixation. It can also help improve your peripheral reading capabilities.
Get The Most Out Of Spreeder
1) First of all, make sure you put the Spreeder bookmarklet in your Favorites bar.
2) Install the Readability browser extension. Readability will strip out funky formatting and ads from articles, making Spreeder much more reliable. (Note: Evernote Clearly doesn’t work with the Spreeder bookmarklet.)
3) Find an article and open it using Readability. Select the text and click your Spreeder bookmarklet.
4) Spreeder is ready to use!
How To Start and Improve
If you consider yourself a slow reader, start with a chunk size of 2. If you are a quick reader, start with a chunk size of 3. Set your speed low (between 200-300) and try out an article. Read the first couple of sentences to get a feel for the pace. Once you are comfortable, increase the WPM until it is too fast to catch every word.
You want the WPM to be set fast enough to stop sub-vocalization. This should feel as if you can just barely catch all of the words you are reading. It will be difficult at first, but after a couple articles, you should find the speed less difficult. Once the speed feels comfortable, increase it by 5-10 WPM and keep practicing until you can increase the speed again.
Once I get to 450 WPM, I increase the chunk size by 1 and decrease the speed to 400 WPM. I then slowly increase the speed until it reaches 450 WPM again, when add to the chunk size. I continuously follow this cycle, attempting to increase the chunk size as much as I can.
Chunk size is more important than speed. To translate this skill to other types of media, like books, you must have a large chunk size. With a chunk size of 10 words or more, your Spreeder sessions end up being similar to scanning down a page of a book. By increasing your capability to comprehend large chunks of text quickly, you are building reading skills that can translate to any medium. Simply increasing the WPM without increasing chunk sizes will not properly exercise your reading capabilities.
Protip: Spreeder reports how many words you are about to read. Dividing the number of words by your WPM will give you exactly how long it will take to read an article. It’s handy knowing whether an article will take 2 minutes or 10 minutes to read.
Finally, I have included below my preferred options for Spreeder. Play with the options and choose whatever is the most comfortable for you!