Why Speed Reading Doesn’t Work

I’m sure you have heard of the term speed reading before. Maybe you have just heard the word in passing, or maybe (like me), you have looked for resources to teach you how to speed read. Maybe, you have tried to implement speed reading techniques that have been taught to you. This article is going to explain, why speed reading is completely ineffective if you are trying to learn as much as you can from a book.

When you go on speed reading websites and articles, you will two big metrics. You may see words per minute (wpm) and comprehensions level. Words per minute is a fairly quantifiable measurement. It is simply looking at all the words you have read, divided by the time (in minutes) that it took you to read them. Comprehensions level is more subjective. There really is no standardized level of measuring comprehension level, and it usually comes down to answering questions about the reading. Then, you get rated by how many you got correct. For example, if you are asked 10 questions and you get six right, then you have a comprehension level of 60%. However, there is no way of telling what questions are good measurements of comprehension. For example, if you are reading Hamlet, then it may matter a lot more that you know the names of the people in the book. But, if you are taking a Biology class, you certainly do not need to know the names of the people in the examples. Additionally, if you are reading The Bible for a historical context, you are going to need to understand different things than if you were reading for a spiritual understanding.

Your Lens

This leads me into my first important point. When reading something, the most important thing that you should take into consideration is the lense you are reading it through. What’s the lense? Your purpose for reading the book. Perhaps you are reading for pleasure, then you lense should be enjoyment, so you probably want to take your time and enjoy everything. Maybe you want to know everything the book teaches you. In this case, you would pay attention to every distinction and point the book made. Perhaps you are reading a work such as Beowulf for a historical perspective on the language. Then you would want to pay more attentions to the speech of the characters than the metaphorical meanings.

Essentially, your lense is the reason you are reading the book, and you should measure your comprehension based on how fully you understand the book under that lense. Of course, you always want to have a basic understanding of everything in a book. For example, if you are reading To The Lighthouse for the philosophical significance, you would definitely take significant note of anything philosophical. However, you could not just ignore every other part of the book. You would still need to know character names and backgrounds because that plays into the perspective of what is being said.

Dialogue With the Book

What does dialogue with the book even mean? Well, when you are reading almost any type of book (maybe except for textbooks), you want to understand what the author is saying, and you want to take note of how it applies to what you are trying to do. For example, if you are reading a book about how to improve your critical thinking, you want to note when the author says something important, and you want to note how it applies to your situation. I personally do this by annotating my books (which I will cover in another post).  You could take notes in a notebook. You could highlight, or do whatever works for you. You could even just pause and think when something intrigues you.

Why is this in a post on speed reading? Well, you need to read at a speed that allows  for you to have that dialogue. If you are flying by at 1000 wpm, you will not even be able to draw conclusions from the text.

Where Speed Reading Falls Apart

I will be honest, there is some good advice within the speed reading websites, but it comes far and few in between. I’ll start by telling you what is good advice from these websites. Firstly, you do not want to say the words in your head when you read. Doing this will slow you down unnecessarily. Personally, I have never done this, but it is very common in others. If you can eliminate this, you will give a slight and healthy boost to your reading speed. Secondly, you want to avoid backtracking by rereading passages. This is a bad habit, and if you are able to stop doing it, you will move through a book a bit faster. Lastly, you can actually effectively increase your reading speed with one trick: reading more. The more you read, the faster your reading speed will get naturally. Don’t push it though. Just let it naturally increase.

Alright, now I am going to drop a bombshell on you. Speed reading does not work because it prevents you from doing the things I mentioned above. However, it does allow you to read faster. ????????? Wait… What?

Here’s the problem, when you are reading fast, you are not taking the time to actually stop and note what is important. You are simply moving on. Some speed reading sites claim that training your brain to speed read may increase comprehension though. And that could definitely be true. However, this is short term comprehension. If you have had any experience with learning, you know that what you don’t review does not stay with you. So, if you are moving too fast to even note what to review, then you are not going to know anything long term.

Now someone may say: but what if I take a break to write down what was important after I am done reading? I challenge you to read 100 pages and then write down the most notable things in those pages without missing more than half of them. You won’t be able to do this. Why? Because we are not wired that way.

Speed reading is not bad because it is a scam or fake. Speed reading is bad because it does what it should do. Allow you to move through text much faster, and therefore not have time to note what is important and have dialogue with the book.

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