Speed-reading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

How fast is it humanly possible to read? According to an article in the Mail Online, it’s possible to read a novel in 25 minutes and still be able to recall all the plot simply by practicing and mastering an ingenious technique.

But then again, a more recent article in the Mail Online contradicts the premise of the earlier one:

In a world of email and social media, speed reading could be the answer to the always on generation’s prayers.

However, researchers studying the techniques and apps available say they don’t work.

They looked at decades of research—and concluded speed readers don’t remember what they read.

‘Examining decades’ worth of research on the science of reading, a team of psychological scientists finds little evidence to support speed reading as a shortcut to understanding and remembering large volumes of written content in a short period of time,’ they said.

I once got taken in by the claimed benefits of speed-reading and decided to give it a go. I practiced reading ‘groups of words as a whole unit rather than individually,’ as prescribed according to the dogmata.

Several vicious eye-strain-induced headaches later, I gave it up as a bad job.

Reading at my normal speed, I usually get lost in a story; books provide me with hours of unsullied pleasure that can seem as fleeting as minutes.

But when I practiced speed-reading, the reverse was the case; minutes seemed as drawn out as hours, and the intense concentration required was sheer agony.

Nevertheless, if mastering speed-reading could have saved me time while also enhancing my ability to absorb and remember the written material, I might have persevered. But the fact was that speed-reading both wasted my time and hindered my ability to absorb and remember more than just the gist of what the written material was about.

Of course, the proponents of speed-reading continue to extol the purported benefits to be derived by mastering the technique, but their assertions run contrary to scientific opinion—which is that speed-reading simply doesn’t work, that the argument ‘that speed-reading training helps you absorb more information in a single glance than you typically do’ doesn’t hold water.

According to researchers, the speed at which we are able to process text is directly related to our ‘capacity to recognize words and understand text.’ And ‘how many words our eyes take in at a time’ has nothing to do with it.

I heartily concur. In fact, it’s in keeping with the best advice I ever got on how to process text effectively. It came from a book by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, entitled Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health that I happened to read about 35 years ago (By the way, I’m not—nor ever have been—a member of the Church of Scientology.):

In reading this book, be certain you never go past a word you do not fully understand.

The only reason a person gives up a study or becomes confused or unable to learn is because he or she has gone past a word that was not fully understood.

So much for speed-reading.