I always thought that doing a speed-reading course would be a good thing to do as a scientist. With the amount of literature we need to consume, speed-reading (the art of reading faster without reducing comprehension) would save a lot of time.
But it turns out that you don’t really need to spend any cash on a course to teach you to read more quickly. There are some pretty simple steps that you can use to dramatically improve your reading speed that won’t cost you a penny.
The basic principles are:
1. Use a tracer, like a pen, or your finger, to trace under each line as you read it, as if you were underlining. You do not read text in a continuous line, but in a sequence of jumps, each of which ends with a temporary snapshot of the text within you focus area. Subconsciously, you will spend a lot of time re-reading and skipping back to previous snapshots. Using a tracer helps your eye focus and prevent this from happening.
2. Train yourself to use your peripheral vision as you read. When we read, we tend to focus just on the words that are in our central focus in each snapshot. But you can train your eye to use your peripheral vision too and so multiply your reading power.
10 minute speed-reading training
The following 10 minute training routine is based on these principles. I’ve tried it a few times recently and have seen a notable improvement in my reading speed:
1. For 2 minutes: Practice reading as fast as possible, using a tracer to guide you. Don’t worry about comprehension to begin with – that will come.
2. For 3 minutes: Train your eye to use your peripheral vision by focussing on the THIRD word and the the THIRD FROM LAST word in each line.
e.g. if the line was this, you would focus on the underlined words:
“We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.).”
As you practice this and it becomes easier, you can start to move your focus into the fourth and fourth from last words and so on.
3. For 2 minutes: Practice reading each line in only two snapshots using your focus on the third and third from last words as an anchor.
4. For 3 minutes: Read too fast. Using techniques 1-3, practice reading too fast for comprehension for a couple of pages and then (still using the techniques) slow down to a pace that you can comprehend the text. This will help accustom your brain to reading more quickly — a bit like when driving a city speeds seems very slow when you have just come off the motorway.
Obviously the more you repeat the cycle, the faster you will get. If you have a go, please drop me a comment – I’d be interested to hear how it went for you.
ps: If you want to monitor your progress, measure your reading speed (words per minute) before and after. You can calculate the average number of words on a page by calculating the average number of words in 10 lines, then using this to calculate the average number of words per page and so on (but you don’t need me to tell you that! 🙂 )