Speed Reading

Speed reading classes claim to be able to turbocharge your words per minute. Is this really possible?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Fads

Skeptoid #229
October 26, 2010
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
Also available in Russian

Speed Reading

We've all seen films of speed readers going through books nearly as fast as they can physically turn the pages. It's enough to make anyone envious. Who among us wouldn't love the ability to pick up any book, flip through its pages in just a few minutes, and then put it down in record time with nearly 100% retention? When I look at my vast stacks of unread books, the idea is certainly a compelling one. Fortunately for slow readers like myself, our demand-driven economy has responded with a product we can buy: Classes and techniques purporting to be able to turbocharge our reading speeds to thousands of words per minute.

The most often cited speed reader is the late Kim Peek, the famous savant upon whom the Rain Man character was based. His mental abilities were so vast and varied that speed reading was hardly the most remarkable, yet it was still really something. He read two pages at a time, the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye. Estimates of his speed vary, but 10,000 words a minute is the number I found most often. Peek had a unique hardware arrangement driving this ability, though. He was born without a corpus callosum (the connection between the two brain hemispheres), and it's possible that his two hemispheres were able to process the pages he read in parallel. Kids, don't try this at home.

The most famous speed reader is probably John F. Kennedy, who spoke about it often and is said to have had his staff take Evelyn Wood speed reading classes. 1,200 words per minute is the number cited for Kennedy, however we'll look a little more closely at this in a few moments.

The Guinness Book of World Records does list a fastest reader, Howard Berg, who claimed 25,000 words a minute, nearly as fast as one can fan the pages of a book. Berg is best known for amazing stunts of speed reading and comprehension on television shows, including one with Kevin Trudeau who sold his speed reading course Mega Reading. But his claims were not without controversy. First, his TV stunts were incredible, but they never came near approaching 25,000 words a minute. Second, The Federal Trade Commission filed suit against him in 1990 for false and misleading advertising, after a blinded study found that none of his customers gained anywhere near as much as he said they would. Still, the fastest of those tested had quadrupled their speed to 800 words per minute.

How fast is 800 words per minute? It doesn't sound all that great compared to some of these other speeds. But apparently, 800 would be extremely fast for anyone without Kim Peek's hardware. Fast speeds require skimming, and comprehension drops off dramatically. It's always a trade-off. At 800, there's a massive loss of comprehension. To truly measure reading speed, we'd have to draw a line at some minimum acceptable level of comprehension.

Ronald Carver, author of the 1990 book The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement, is one researcher who has done extensive testing of readers and reading speed, and thoroughly examined the various speed reading techniques and the actual improvement likely to be gained. One notable test he did pitted four groups of the fastest readers he could find against each other. The groups consisted of champion speed readers, fast college readers, successful professionals whose jobs required a lot of reading, and students who had scored highest on speed reading tests. Carver found that of his superstars, none could read faster than 600 words per minute with more than 75% retention of information.

Keith Rayner is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has studied this for a long time too. In fact, one of his papers is titled Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research, and he published that in 1993. Rayner has found that 95% of college level readers test between 200 and 400 words per minute, with the average right around 300. Very few people can read faster than 400 words per minute, and any gain would likely come with an unacceptable loss of comprehension.

So before you embark on a speed reading course, understand that knowledgeable professionals have devoted their careers to studying this, and have conclusively found that any gains you're likely to achieve are probably nowhere near the numbers printed in your class's marketing brochure, at least not without massive loss of retention. But let's take a look at the strategies that speed reading courses teach.

One of the basic goals is the elimination of subvocalization, claimed to be the thing that slows readers down the most. Subvocalization is the imagined pronunciation of every word we read. I do this a lot, and it limits my reading speed to virtually the same as my talking speed. Subvocalization is even accompanied by minute movements of the tongue and throat muscles. Nearly every speed reading class promises the elimination of subvocalization.

Here's the problem with that. You can't read without subvocalization. Carver and Rayner have both found that even the fastest readers all subvocalize. Even skimmers subvocalize key words. This is detectable, even among speed readers who think they don't do it, by the placement of electromagnetic sensors on the throat which pick up the faint nerve impulses sent to the muscles. Our brains just don't seem to be able to completely divorce reading from speaking. NASA has even built systems to pick up these impulses, using them to browse the web or potentially even control a spacecraft. Chuck Jorgensen, who ran a team at NASA in 2004 developing this system, said:

"Biological signals arise when reading or speaking to oneself with or without actual lip or facial movement. A person using the subvocal system thinks of phrases and talks to himself so quietly, it cannot be heard, but the tongue and vocal chords do receive speech signals from the brain."

In fact, scientists have a term for reading in this way. They call it rauding, a combination of the words read and audio. To truly comprehend what your brain is seeing, nearly all of us must raud the words, fastest speed readers included. Fast readers need not be fast speakers; they simply have what's called a larger "recognition vocabulary". Rauding an unfamiliar word is subvocalized more slowly than a word already stored in our recognition vocabulary. We've learned that your recognition vocabulary, and thus your reading speed, can actually be improved; but the real technique is the opposite of what's taught in speed reading courses. Focus instead on reading comprehension. This will improve your recognition vocabulary, and you will probably begin to read faster.

Thus, elimination of subvocalization is a gimmicky claim. It sounds logical, and it's an easy sell. By skimming a text, you can subvocalize less of it, and you will comprehend less of it. Rauding the complete text is the only way to actually read it.

Another strategy taught in speed reading is special eye movements. These are usually things like reading lines backwards and forwards, and taking in several lines of text at a time. Again, this gimmick sounds like an attractive superpower to have, but it's counterintuitive to the way our brains actually process text. Those of us who aren't Kim Peek need serial input. Here's what's happening when you read. First, your eye lands on a point in a printed sentence. This is called a fixation, and it lasts (on average) a quarter of a second. Your eye then moves to the next fixation, and this movement is called a saccade, and takes a tenth of a second. After several saccades, your brain needs time to catch up and comprehend. This takes anywhere from a quarter to half a second. Half a second is a long time, and that's the rauding catching up with the saccades.

Is it possible to fixate once in a group of ten lines of text, and actually take it all in? Maybe, but only with a sufficient pause to comprehend before moving on. Speed reading teaches you to skip this pause, and thus your brain will not process the majority of what your eyes pass.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

If we look back at the test that found Howard Berg's students improved to as much as 800 words a minute, we have to keep in mind that speed and comprehension are a trade-off. Whether 800 words a minute constitutes a passing score depends on what kind of comprehension threshold is set, and also what kind of text it was. When The Straight Dope administered its own speed reading tests, they found that people who had not read the texts at all often scored nearly as well on comprehension questions as the speed readers — when the text was general enough. In other words, it's very easy for professionals like Evelyn Wood or Howard Berg to control the conditions of the test to produce amazing results, good enough to impress television hosts, and to sell classes to laypeople.

So what about John F. Kennedy and his 1,200 words per minute? Kennedy biographer Richard Reeves looked into this. The 1,200 number comes from an off-the-cuff guess made to Time magazine's White House reporter. The reporter called the Evelyn Wood school where Kennedy had taken his speed reading class, but found that he had no score, as he'd never completed the class and actually been timed. But in what the reporter figured was a bit a PR posturing, the school told him that Kennedy "probably" read 700-800 words per minute. Carver's educated guess is that Kennedy likely read 500-600 words per minute, but may have been able to skim as fast as 1,000. So take the Kennedy claims with a grain of salt.

Test yourself at your normal reading speed, and you'll probably be surprised to learn that what you thought was slow is actually right in that normal range of around 300 words a minute. If you're much faster than that, you're among the few people with a highly developed recognition vocabulary. To improve this, stay away from gimmicky techniques that ignore the way the brain processes printed text, and focus on your comprehension. To read faster, concentrate on reading slower, and read more often.

Brian Dunning

© 2010 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Carroll, R. "Speed Reading." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 11 May 2000. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <http://www.skepdic.com/speedreading.html>

Carver, R. The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement. Mahway: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2000.

Just, M., Carpenter, P. The Psychology of Reading and Language Comprehension. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1987.

Noah, T. "The 1,000-Word Dash." Slate. Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC, 18 Feb. 2000. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. <http://www.slate.com/id/74766>

Rayner, K. "Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research." Psychological Bulletin. 1 Nov. 1998, Volume 124, Number 3: 372-422.

Reeves, R. President Kennedy: Profile of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Speed Reading." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 26 Oct 2010. Web. 4 Oct 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4229>


Excellent text and listening which i'm including in my list of sounds to hear in my car during commuting.

Geraldo, Aparecida/Brazil
October 26, 2010 7:31am

I speed-read this entire episode in 4 seconds and I agree with Brian that the Loch Ness monster is a blatant hoax.

H. Tiberius Miser, Secret Underground Lair, Earth
October 26, 2010 8:19am

@HTM: very big LOL

I went along for one of the Evelyn Wood seminars when I was at university except they found that my skimming speed (with very good comprehension) was already 800-100 words per minute.

It might be something to do with me learning to read very early with very little subvocalisation.

As a postscript, I'm also a very good music sight-reader even though my knowledge of music-theory (chords etc) is not great and I have terrible memory for it, and awful pitch sense. So I guess it's very much something in my visual apparatus that allows me to process this stuff very quickly independently of support from other modes. My last teacher said it was obvious that my brain was just working very hard to compensate for natural musical gifts.

Would love to know exactly what was going on...

Mike, Sydney
October 26, 2010 8:35am

H. Tiberius Miser, That is the hardest I have laughed in a while. Thank you.

My dad reads very fast but can barely answer any questions about a book a few hours later. I read slow and can quote passages years later.....kinda reinforces all Brian said, but common sense should probably should tell us all this anyway.

Brandon, Canada
October 26, 2010 8:55am

More cheers for HTM :)

So interesting that the signals still get sent during subvocalization; any day this will lead to a new Apple input device.

Mike, Baltimore
October 26, 2010 9:21am

Good job, Brian! I have wondered about this for decades. I took a speed reading course in night school in the 1970s and didn't notice any significant increase that wasn't accompanied by a loss of comprehension, but I thought it was my fault. It didn't occur to me that the technique was bogus -- I wasn't as much of a skeptic as I am now. I agree, though, that reading a lot, instead of other forms of recreation, makes up for the low speed. I wonder how some people do what they do; certain podcast hosts must read a book every week, & seem to really know what their guests have written about.
Thanks for researching this interesting topic!

Wendy Hughes, Studio City CA
October 26, 2010 9:30am

Great topic!

I recall in high school, we used a device that measured how fast we read. It was a framed clear screen with a bar at the top, which you placed over a page of text. You set the bar to a specific speed and it would travel down the screen while you read ahead of it. Took a lot of adjusting until you hit the right speed. I was the fastest in my class, at 400-something wpm. (I don't remember if we were tested afterwards for comprehension.) This seems to bear out the idea of "recognition vocabulary," as I was (and still am) a voracious reader.

Lisa, Ft White, FL
October 26, 2010 9:37am

I remember an infomercial from the early 90s talking about speed reading. It should say something right there that it was on a early 90s infomercial. i still can't speed read and my clapper, chia pet and pocket fisherman never really worked like it said in the infomercials.

Patrick, Penns Grove, New Jersey
October 26, 2010 10:22am

I was just wondering about this the other day! I occasionally hear people touting websites that can aid you with subvocalization-cessation by applying a cursor to your text and gradually speeding it up forcing your eyes across the text faster. They ALWAYS claim that once you stop saying the words in your head 'you just understand it!' My intuition was that even if they were processing the words, any sort of inflection or voice the author wished to convey to the reader must surely be lost. I also imagine that it must really feel like you're comprehending it because you can look back and remember the words, but objective testing would probably indicate the comprehension sacrificed.

Scott, Portland, ME
October 26, 2010 11:04am

I remember going to a short intro course in speed reading arranged by my employer. We were timed for speed and tested for comprehension before we started. We all improved speed greatly with "similar" comprehension. However the trick I noticed is that in the pre-test I assumed that the comprehension questions were going to be set at a "reasonable level" so I concentrated on the long text to be able to answer the questions correctly. After doing the initial comprehension questions I noted that All the questions were "Extremely Basic". I could have read a lot faster and still scored perfectly in the "Sub par" comprehension test. Therefore in the Post course test I duly read a Lot faster (do not remember the stated speed) and again scored perfectly in the comprehension test. Every participant did !! and after the oohs and aahs died down I pointed out the reason why I was able to read faster. I was not given any support in my thoughts by the in-house trainer nor the fellow participants. The most common reason given by my fellow participants was, "well you're just a sceptic !!!" (We used a C in that word in Australia back then") See you in TAM Oz Brian. (and in Melbourne afterwards)

Joseph Zappulla, Melbourne
October 26, 2010 12:28pm

One of your best topics in a while, Brian, kudos!

Phil B., New York, NY
October 26, 2010 1:53pm

After speed-reading this article, I fully agree with Brian that speed-reading increases retention and comprehension.

Max, Boston, MA
October 26, 2010 3:25pm

I had trouble reading this article, because so much of my attention was diverted to HOW I was reading it. I'll have to do something non-verbal until I can forget about it and just read again.

Cambias, Western Massachusetts
October 26, 2010 5:17pm

I'm betting that people who have a degree in English, besides English Ed, do better on the comprehension tests. That is, doing better on tests for books they have never read.

It's not that they've heard of the topics and subjects before, but they get very good at faking it.

That's how I got my BA!

Brandon, Falconer
October 26, 2010 6:39pm

Excellent and interesting subject and show. As a fast reader myself, I do have some comments based on nothing but self-observation so most likely biased and distorted. :)

I read about 1,000 words a minute, give or take. There are a few things I attribute this too:

1) I learned to read by sight, rather than by phonics, essentially learning written English as if it were a separate language than spoken English. As a result, while I will not argue that I do not subvocalise at all, I do so minimally - for example, while I will note when reading to myself that SHED and RED rhyme, I will not note that SHED and HEAD rhyme unless I read the words aloud.

2) As with most readers (you can look this up) I do not read the entire word, but combine context and certain key letters to determine the meaning of the word. I have found that I am, essentially, more willing to guess what a word is than other people. I am occasionally wrong.

3) I read less of a word before deciding what the word is - for example, consider the word "decadent." With context as a guide, I probably wouldn't read farther than "Deca" before getting the meaning.

4) I read a whole lot. In general anyone gets better at something through practice, so it is not surprising that people who enjoy reading and read a lot get faster.

I have a follow up question for you: do people born deaf and mute subvocalise when they read? If they know sign language, do they subvocalize with their fingers and hands? Thanks!

John Ordover, New York City
October 26, 2010 8:56pm

As Alex Harvey once sang, "there's no such thing as a dirty book, it's just the way you read it!".

to make claims of the "paranormal" you would have to be tested under rigorous conditions (I could easily post that in the world of Henk I run an even 8.9, 8.8 when chased by irate husbands..sadly.. with rottweilers and shotguns..But I cant and never could [and no irate husbands either].

I am not sure if Brian got the point across where the level of expertise required to read a book increases as the level of expertise that went into writing it increases.

When I was young I could easily knock over 60 pages of paperback an hour (thank you for all those quickies Jose Farmer and Phillip Dick). Somehow I read fiction as if I was watching a movie. I am not at all sure if my comprehension of any subtlety that passed my way could be tested. This doesnt work in the real world and certainly not at my bone creaking 50 years of age (please, I subtracted the odd year).

So journal papers aside and possible super powers, at 1000 word/min you could easily knuckle walk at 500 word/min and multitask?

Its just that...why bother listening to the podcast when you can read it in a minute? Damn TV advertising must be torture compared to the drag it is to me.

At a thousand words per minute, you are going to get really hung up in text books.

and (Alex Harvey refrain) "shake that thing!"

Bemoan the loss of Alex after these decades!

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
October 27, 2010 1:08am

Excellent topic! While reading on subvocalization, I kept going back to learning to type. The only way to type quickly is to type the whole word, not letters. With time and practice, you can type on one topic and talk on a different topic with fair accuracy. There's a disconnect in there where your brain transfers to your hands directly (not a scientific term, I know). I wondered if this can to some degree happen in speed-reading, much as John O. said about word recognition. Also, wondered if writers are faster readers? And thanks to HTM for his great sense of humor!

Sheri Kimbrough, Wyoming
October 27, 2010 7:46am

I really enjoyed this column. I too took an introductory speed-reading course and was surprised at how easily they measured "comprehension". More to the point, I found that my speed increased only incrementally, and I didn't enjoy reading as much.

BTW, I would have commented yesterday, only I ran out of lunch-hour time reading the transcript :-)

Dedalus, Marietta GA
October 27, 2010 9:26am

"You can't read without subvocalization."

That would suggest that deaf people who don't learn to talk vocally, would be unable to read. It may be that once you've learned to subvocalize while reading, that it's impossible (or very difficult) to stop. But it's clearly possible to read without subvocalizing.

Karl Johanson, Victoria BC
October 27, 2010 12:16pm

I speed read this article...what did it say?

Todd Barton, Crawfordsville
October 27, 2010 5:43pm

There, done, I've read it all in 10.5 seconds. I agree with you about that thing about the eye movement and, uhhh, everything else.

Pablo Colombo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 28, 2010 1:18pm

I skimmed through the entire piece in only seconds. I think it had something to do with reading fast. I'm not quite certain.

Sean Webb, Hamilton, Ontario
October 28, 2010 7:48pm

Oh you crazy Americans, this is one of the first times I have even heard about this whole thing and didn't really know that it was such a sham out there.

But I agree with Brian on the article, the more you have understanding of the language the faster you read because you don't have to pause to analyze what you just read, and if you are a fast talker you usually - not always - read faster because you process communication information faster.

However, at least in academic circles in Finland "Rapid Serial Visual Presentation" has gained some attention and I really would like Brian to tackle this as a followup to this article.

And great article.

Roni Huhta, Oulu, Finland
October 29, 2010 1:49am

Excellent article.

Smintis, Athens, Greece
October 30, 2010 4:02am

This was interesting. I actually went to a class (it was paid by the school I went to) to learn speed reading, They mostly talked about reducing fixation points, but never reading the text backwards or several lines at the same time. I'm actually a rather fast reader as it is and have no idea if the class increased my speed at all. But the class seemed plausable at the time.

One thing though about subvocalisation; how about deaf people? Do they also subvocalize? Or do they visualize handmovements from signlanguage to represent the words?

Hanna, Stockholm, Sweden
November 1, 2010 5:24am

I'm into speed-listening.

I download the podcast, then play it back at 4 to 5 times normal. I can hear the whole thing in the time it takes to microwave my pop-tart.

Glen Wolfram, Eugene, Oregon
November 9, 2010 3:41pm

Speed reading is not hard, and you can teach yourself. As an example, Derren Brown did an entire show (it's probably on YouTube) teaching a guy how to speed read his own height in books and then recall the information for a quiz, at thousands of words per minute. It's not that hard, you just have to get over the sub-vocalization process and trust your brain. I've tried it and it does work. The only downside is that the information is only retained for a week or so. I wouldn't recommend it if your studying to be a surgeon...

Kev, London, UK
November 13, 2010 12:52am

reading isnt the main componenet of studying.. as far as I can work out its reading and taking notes, doing problems, problems and problems.

speed reading doesnt help here.

Man I cant remember a tv show after half an hour! I have to watch football games three times to get its impart.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
November 14, 2010 2:09am

Brian - love your work - keep it up!

There is an implicit assumption in Brian's comments on speed reading: while it seems true that sub-vocalization cannot be stopped while reading, it is not the case that what you read is necessarily connected to what you are sub-vocalizing. Fortunately, this claim is easily tested by all with no tedious training required. Find a passage (on this site) and read it while at the same time counting casually in your head "1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4...". Just count to 4 repeatedly in your head - you don't need to say the numbers aloud to see the results. This should force you to sub-vocalize the numbers and leave you free to read faster. Try it and post your result here.

Wayne, Minneapolis, MN
November 22, 2010 12:58pm

Wayne, obviously your comment was too technical for speed reading purposes

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
November 23, 2010 9:29pm

I apologise for posting the comment here. Perhaps you could set up a "suggestion box"?

How about an episode on the Qur'an?
You could address the issue of some of the verses about women and Jews which critics point to, but that Muslim apologists deny as false translations or things taken out of context. Where can we find impartial Arab translaters for the Qur'an?

Or; you could address the issue of the Qur'an mentioning the atom. Some Muslims point to this as a proof of the Qur'an's divine knowledge. You could talk about the history of awareness about atoms, dating it back to India, through Ancient Greece...

It seems to be a very important topic. I'm sure many people would be interested in the skeptic side of things.
You could also point people to the movement of Secular Muslims, Apostates and also skeptics in Islam, both historical and current.

Thank you for your time.


Pablo, Madrid Spain
December 1, 2010 3:17am

There is some benefit to speed reading, especially for studying, but it isn't quite what is sold to the public.

I picked this tip up from a book titled "How to Read a Book" (seriously) from about 1940. It advises that you make multiple passes through a book you are studying, in this order:

1. Scan the entire book in one sitting. Flip pages quickly and scan briefly, 1-2 seconds per page. Go fast and just skim, don't read. You are getting the "gist" of the entire book, nothing more.

2. Start over, and this time skim the entire book at about 3-5 seconds per page. Still skimming, but now you are picking out keywords, phrases, etc. Just let it jump out at you, don't worry. After this step, put the book down and come back later or the next day. This lets your brain absorb some of it.

3. When it is time to study a chapter, skim the chapter (a repeat of step 2 for this chapter only). Then intensely read the chapter, making notes in the margins. At the end of the chapter, summarize the chapter on the chapter's first page (usually whitespace is available at the top half of the page).

4. For final study, do step 2 again, this time reading each chapter summary.

Congratulations, you just absorbed the book far more than you would have in a straight linear fashion. This is because by the time you get to step 3 your brain knows there are other concepts coming later, and can plug what you learn into a mental structure that you have created through the skimming process.

It works for me.

Dave, Montgomery, AL
December 1, 2010 9:15pm

Dave, that isnt speed reading... that is student edition scanning.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
December 7, 2010 6:14am

Dave, I have that book on my shelf. It has been one of the most useful purchases in my recent memory.

I have a question about sub-vocalization. I have been whistling Christmas music all day and continued to do so all the way through the reading of this column. It seems to me that whistling while you read would necessarily exclude sub-vocalization because the muscles of lips and tongue are busy. Any guess what's going on?

Disa Marnesdottr, Seattle
December 10, 2010 6:29pm

you really are saying that you need to concentrate on doing something else whilst you read?

This is getting better.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
December 11, 2010 5:00am

After speed reading this transcript I agree with Brian Dunning's assertion that speed reading is definitely possible and beneficial, with close to 100% retention.

Luke Wiwatowski, Brisbane
January 31, 2011 8:22pm

This article gives you much more useful information on reading than any speed reading course.
My guess is that people who look for speed reading courses are people who really don't like to read at all and therefore want to get it over with as fast as possible. If you want to learn to type fast you first focus on accuracy and as you get better your speed will build up naturally. The same goes for reading.

Jesus Tequiere, Heaven
February 25, 2011 7:28am

I have a friend who is kind of a "natural speed reader" - she once was measured to 800-1000 wpm with good retention. But the drawback: She also has ADHD, which is considered the main cause for this ability. Best proof, so she told me, for that: When dosed with Ritalin, she immidiately drops to the common 400 wpm.

Seems like our "hardware" is under certain circumstances able to reach a much higher speed than the average 300-400 wpm - but with the cost of cutting out or at least marginalizing some other elements of the process. Based on my friend's experience I would say, that physiologically speed reading at rates of 1000 wpm is possible - but not for an average "healthy" mind. I guess, this question is to be answered more profoundly as soon as we get to know more about the process of how our mind "understands" things - there is obvioulsy more to it than the simple bodily function of eye movements and nervous signalling from eye to brain, which does not seem to be the vital element determining the overall speed of reading.

A very interesting article, btw! I didn't even know, that this is such a big thing in the US. In Germany I've actually never heard of anything like commercial speed reading classes - seems to say something about cultural differences as well, huh? :D

Markus, Neuss
August 10, 2011 4:58am

Id be overjoyed at reading 30 words per minute and having total recall.

Speed reading is for fiction books on the train.

Henk V., sydney, Australia
September 1, 2011 1:06pm

I took one of those speed reading classes. I did improve my reading speed with increased comprehension. It was not to the exaggerated claims but it was well worth the $80.00 I paid :)

The classes should be called “reading effectively“ vs "Speed reading" so that there would not be so much hype. Good audio!

Mark, California
September 4, 2011 11:41am

I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.
-- Woody Allen

Wes, Alberta
September 12, 2011 2:37pm

The craziness about speed reading stems from simply no knowledge of physiology of how things are timed in our brain. The experimental evidence for all that is in eye movements and various experiments built around them.

Reading, like conscious visual exploration, at the most basic level, works by taking snapshots -- like pictures with a camera. We can take 5-7 snapshots per second. There's no way to cheat on that, just like we don't have anyone who can pole vault a 1000 yards up. So that one gives us a baseline. The snapshots are "exposed" on the central high-resolution part of our retina, called the fovea.

The data from the fovea is the only data that can be consciously processed. Everything else -- the data from the peripheral vision -- can be used for pre-conscious programming of visual exploration etc., but does not figure directly in the reading per se as in seeing words. The periphery doesn't have enough resolution to image words when read at normal font sizes and distances. It's pretty uncontoversial.

Reading with comprehension, at the most basic level, can be checked by inspecting one's ability to separate sentences. This calls for next to no memorization. For that, you randomly arrange a string of simplest sentences, without punctuation nor capitalization, and have them separated by the subject. That's IMHO the minimum needed to pass muster at comprehension. No one can do better than IIRC 3 sentences per second, and that's all there's to it. Speed readers included.

Kuba, OH, U.S.A.
November 21, 2011 7:48pm


Whats your reaction time?

That is all you need to debunk the speed reader.

The ICP would have liked to promise a thesis on this brief period..

Mud, Back in the hack shack! NSW, Oz
November 22, 2011 12:56am

<continuation of my last comment> ...

Of course we know the publications of R.P. Carver and his critique on speed reading. But I think one of the subjects in his experiments showed the same speed reading phenomenon like the 5 subjects of Brown (1981):

Carver, R.P. (1985). How good are some of the world's best readers? Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 389-419: "It seems undeniable that SPEED-3,700 could write an excellent summary of a book, even when given a very short period of time to look at the book. If there were evidence that she or he could also recall a great many of the details of the book, this would constitute striking evidence for the existence of a truly super reader."

Nevertheless nearly all speed reading classes in my opinion cannot hold their promises.

Peter Rösler,
Member of the German Skeptics (GWUP), Chairman of the German Society for Speed Reading (www.dgfsl.de)

Peter Roesler, Munich, Germany
January 6, 2012 5:55am

The episode is consistent to what the majority of scientific psychologists would believe on speed reading. But there seems to be a real speed reading phenomenon. Research shows, that reading speeds higher than 600 words per minute with good comprehension are possible:
- Cranney et. al. (1982). Rate and reading dynamics reconsidered. Journal of Reading, 25(6), 526-533.
- Brown et. al. (1981). An Analysis of the Rapid Reading Controversy. In: The Social Psychology of Reading, Silver Spring.

The 5 subjects in Brown (1981) and Cranney (1982) show a similar reading performance as we assume Kim Peek was able to demonstrate. (With the difference, that Kim Peek additionally had a photographic memory.) We also think we have good (unpublished) theories, how reading speeds of 2.000 or 3.000 words per minute can be explained. (There are only powerpoint slides in German on this phenomenon: www.schnell-leser.de/Schnelllesen_24.04.2008.ppt).

... <will be continued in the next comment. Peter Roesler>

Peter Roesler, Munich, Germany
January 6, 2012 6:10am

Louis Howell from South Africa
reads 150,000words per minute.
She holds the record as far as I know.
Please check thsi and email me if you do find anything.

louis roux, Johannesburg
January 12, 2012 7:08am

Whoopee Louis, they cure aids with garlic and lemon juice in south africa as well.

How many lives did believing in that cost?

Gullibility starts at home, let her read one of my papers as a control.

Mud, Sin City, NSW, Oz
January 12, 2012 8:48pm

OK, a challenge.

Allegedly, according to this article, Kim Peek has amazing speed reading abilities far exceeding normal people, and that he can read two pages at the same time, one with the left eye, and one with the right eye.

But this claim is presented without any source or reference to any properly controlled study or peer reviewed scientific work.

I would like to challenge you with the hypothesis that this claim is totally false.

I eagerly await convincing evidence that I that Kim Peek did indeed have these amazing abilities. Based on my own research, I could find no basis for these claims other than a book written by his father, and numerous TV documentaries, TV articles, scientific articles and books uncritically repeating his father's claims.

Kim Peek undoubtedly had very good general knowledge, as he demonstrated in numerous public performances, but these do not prove that he had amazing speed reading capabilities.

Tomas Ying, London
January 15, 2012 5:01pm

I don't recall when I took Evelyn Woods Course on speed reading. I do recall that we were taught in the class to run our fingers through the pages as we read and pick key words with less emphasis on the "thes" and the "ands" and propositions with concetration on the nowns, verbs and sdjuctives as soon as possible. I found that my personal speed did increase in general. I found that it my speed was lowere when reading technical books rather than fiction or nonfiction (non-tech). I found that in time I was able to read without having to rub my fingers through the pages. I think I am a good reader still today but I must say I don't think I read too fast. I believe I read about 400 to 500 words per minute depending on what I am reading. If I am reading Heidegger's philosophy or a language study book my speed lowers considerable as it becomes a trade off between really understanding the concepts or reading so fast that you miss something in the translation. Overall, it has helped my read faster all these years but perhaps not much faster than I did before I took the course.

Robert Rivera, Riverside, California
March 19, 2012 3:42pm

What an excellent article. There is usually too little good solid information available anywhere on what most of these 'speed reading' courses are really about, and what speeds are normal and what speeds are possible.

I may have one disagreement with the article though, and that's about whether it is truly necessary to always subvocalize.

There is a interesting blog at thoughtunits.com which discusses how to group words into thought-units and read them together as you would simply read a longer compound-word. When reading a thought-unit in this way, you actually visualize the idea rather than think of the words.

This method won't give you savant speeds, but even 600-700 wpm is a terrific ability to have. As for comprehension, those who have learned reading thought-units report that their comprehension actually increases!

Reading thought-units doesn't require you to try to inhibit subvocalizing, but instead replaces it with visualizing ideas. This is because the more you concentrate on seeing ideas, the more subvocalizing fades away on its own.

Dave, Idyllwild, CA
May 14, 2012 3:38pm

information is what we all need is this article was well worth it, as using one of my speed reading programs I could accurately measure how fast iPads narrator can speak 450wpm. as an upgrade in narration technology understanding that speed is easier due to the improved clarification of the narrator, reading any text at that speed in ones leisure. Shame it can't go faster. I have to either drill my eye twice over the text or then re-read with an eye guide at faster speeds.

optimistic, Sydney
May 29, 2012 12:05am

In High school I tested to 1200WPM...the timed test was very easy to beat...we were instructed to read a passage and then answer questions about the content which was supposed to measure both our reading speed and comprehension. Even then I was a pretty good "Skimmer" and since the comprehension questions were on the same page as the passage it was an easy matter to read the question and skim for an answer - voila - 1200WPM! AMAZING! ;P

Rick, Shelton, Wa
June 9, 2012 7:42pm

your reading speed depends with what is being read, a text full of unfamiliar words can't be skimmed over as a text filled with simple straight forward concepts, you think ahead of the writer and can even skip entire paragraphs yet still understand the entire text well enough to achieve over 90% comprehension.Personally I think speed reading is not a good way to enjoy reading, it puts too much pressure on the reader to get over the text rather than comprehend or enjoy it. I had a 500 wpm reading speed, but i found out i skim alot, so i didn't even enjoy the novels i read i decided to reduce my reading speed, so now i read at 300wpm, its still pretty fast but i can enjoy reading a good 500 page novel for an hour rather than skiming through it in 20minutes and then having to reread it cause i skimmed just about everything. I don't think trading off comprehension for speed is a wise choice but if you can read fast (600wpm and over) and still comprehend go ahead and do so.

Angella kogos, Eldoret, Kenya
June 11, 2012 10:36pm

A short experiment for skeptics.

1) shoplift a standard format easy read novel from a shop.

2) count the words for each line of text for about 20 lines and average them (ans 10-15 words average).

3) count the average number of lines on the format (per page)

What is the average number of words per page???

Lesson? You've probably been caught shoplifting. That's nowhere near as bad as telling porkies about your reading ability.

Next we'll hear people telling us a supermoon is the size of a large coin in the sky!

mud, Sinful shire, sin city, Oz
June 12, 2012 4:52am

This is the perhaps the best debunking of Speed Reading I've ever read. Brian, thanks for the excellent podcast and transcript.

Rakesh, India
July 22, 2012 11:16pm

I do wonder what the difference would be with a different 'writing' system or method to convey information? Like logograms?

I used to work at a place that made solar cells, as an inspector. As an example, we could have a panel 6 X 4 feet in size and be expected to see visual defects from say a human eye-lash up.

The cells were arranged in a matrix of - I think - 10 x 4, and to me I could see each cell as being similar to say a Chinese character and would look for defects cell by cell as I scanned each row.

When I first started I couldn't believe that a human eye could do this - I think we got about 30 to 40 seconds a panel but as time went by it could be done, although it was straining.

Anyhow, one day a relief inspector joined me and we swapped ideas and techniques, and I was pretty stunned. This guy would just stand in front of the panel and, as he said, would take a picture in his mind and look for what was 'different' to what he expected to be there. He was inspecting panels quicker than I could log the data onto a computer and I never knew the guy to miss a defect.

So I do wonder if our minds could be trained to take a 'photo' at a page centre and recognize the text - like OCR software.

Anyway, I am sure that there are limits on how much information we can take in on a continuing basis. I can remember Patrick Moore, the UK astronomer, often used to broadcast at 300 WPM on The Sky at Night, and I was often struggling to take in all what he said over the full show.

Jamal, Reading, Berkshire
August 26, 2012 7:30am

I took speed reading at the US Air Force Academy. I was reading 1200 wpm with 80% comprehension going in and the same at the end of the course. I was already doing everything the training included.

There are fast readers. Nobody remembers everything they read, no matter how slowly. Often slow readers score lower on comprehension because they are constantly backtracking.

Just because you are not a fast reader, doesn't mean speed reading is a "scam".

Nancy Drew, San Luis Obispo
September 25, 2012 4:32pm

I'd like to see someone speed read through some of the science, engineering and math books I used in college. No way anyone is going to speed read through that. Some concepts were difficult enough that you might end up spending a whole day on one page...

Joffbaum, New York, NY
October 22, 2012 5:57am

I tested when I was 17, without any speed reading class(never even heard of that back then), I read 591 word per min. With at least 85% information retention.

It's all about how much you read, I prob read at least 20000-30000 a day since I was 8.

Reader, Vancouver
November 6, 2012 11:49pm

@ Joffbaum, I'd agree with that!!!

I think a lot of it depends on how much information is actually on a page and how important it is to remember it.

For example, if you're reading a detective novel and the main characters are introduced in the first few chapters, you may find yourself going back and rereading to remember that Jarvis was the butler and Hugo the chauffeur. After the early stages you have a storyboard in your mind and can move the characters around like a game of chess. When you think of it, the novel is possibly years of research, imagination and character construction condensed into a few hundred pages.

With a novel you can just carry on where you left off but with a scientific or technical piece, depending on how condensed it really is, may have a complete Earth shattering concept in each paragraph, and you may have to thoroughly understand that concept as a first principle to a following one.

Heck even words can throw people off, I loaned out a few of my Richard Dawkins books to a neighbour to see how he got on as he was looking for something to read. A few days later as I passed him he called me over and gave me the books back. Astonished, I said to him; 'that was quick' , thinking he had finished. But he hadn't, he said he enjoyed them but Dawkins kept using words he had never come across before, so he had to keep getting his dictionary, I laughed and then he said that he was going to buy his own copy and annotate it with pencil and post-its!!

Eriq, somewhere on Earth
November 7, 2012 8:41am

Very good “Eriq” – Very insightful reading process, I’ll learn from that.
My comment like personality is not a tease/show/say demo, but a moral duty2help others4a chance in life.
As being humbly responsible is best in serve4humanity – Growing up was far from that, so I won’t make that mistake.
Wouldn’t it be a better world if it was all like that?

4Speed-reading I’ve got many ways - But here is promising strategy “I hope it works”
Maybe even copy/paste2your Pc documents – I’m also adding it2my Facebook.
1st – u have2luv reading faster! So do u love it? - Commitment & faith beyond any odds/doubts.
2nd – Practice every day or half an hr daily
3rd – A definite plan2really truly transform that skill.

Speed-readings a skill like any child learning2read4the1st time.
Think small/easy then work ur way up, get dozens books/text dead easy2read - E.g. Geronimo Stilton collection - 2boost mental training wheels2Sp-read - having pictures2text4each page ANIMATES/ACCENTUATES every KEYWORD gives clues2what is Sp-read.
1st of all Make sure your mind is always relaxed, allowing u2 stay openly focused & concentrated.
Use Hand/Eye guide down page in Zigzag/Lazy-S formation viewing each paragraph back & forth per swipe.
Those (keyword clues) help sprout2mind every surrounding word peripherally viewed (+) up2full comprehension. Then read those same books again & again – faster & faster.
I've got 15 Geronimo Stilton books - Then gradually do harder books.
& Pc word-doc. text can be drag in & out adjust length of text4easier2harder effort2reading more than a line at a time.
Optionally u may also want2set text on auto-scroll.
I hope all dreams com

optimistic, Sydney
December 14, 2012 10:07am

So are you telling me that Dr Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds is a fraud?

I'm gutted....

Hannah, England
January 20, 2013 1:55pm

Its clear that the NSW education system is failing to teach english and moved onto manglish and concatnish.

No wonder Optimistic is so aptly named. Getting that sort of result and writing it out so fluently only indicates to me, something was scanned at a sydney high school.

Dont worry Optimistic, its all up from here..



Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 24, 2013 9:30pm

I learned speed reading techniques around a year ago, and now can read triple the speed I used to with zero loss of comprehension.

I couldn't happier that I picked up a $7 book to learn this invaluable skill.

Not trying it for yourself because of a biased article like this one is for small-minded and limited thinkers.

Ryan, OH
February 25, 2013 2:58am

Well my wife manages a very high speed with over 90% retention in comprehension tests afterwards.

Of course her speed is a lot lower than 'speed readers' but when you multiply wpm by accuracy you find she is fairly competitive (And has done so against uk speed readers - 900 wpm at >90% means 750 ewpm). Of course that is nothing compared to 1300 ewpm but with a comprehension of about 60% whats the point?

You need to be careful not to conflate all forms of reading fast under speed reading. The problem is that speed readers KPI is pure speed.

Also i can guarantee you my sample size is tiny, if i know people who break your results i dread to think what a larger sample would do.

John, somewhere over the rainbow
February 25, 2013 3:49am

Like the old saw of a farmer giving directions, "if I were you I wouldn't start from here": If you want to read fast, don't start with long verbose text.
This article is much too long for it's content.
As are most of the comments.

jack, phnom penh
February 25, 2013 4:08am

Reading in a foreign language helps me to reduce subvocalization greatly, so I read english faster than my native language.

Pete, outside
February 25, 2013 5:33am

I have found my reading speed improve in past 6-8 years. I believe one reason behind it is my increased reading of fiction/thriller novels. I didn't get much chance to recreational reading during my childhood. Mostly what I read was for purpose of studies - books, papers, sometimes newspapers. I had extreme difficulty reading through technical papers in my University days.

In past few years I've found that when I read thriller fictions which keep me at the edge of my seat guessing what's going to happen, I automatically start reading faster. After reading a lot of these over years (15-20 minutes a day), I found that my speed of reading technical papers improved a lot too.

Another observation: I've found that if you have a purpose behind your reading, e.g. you are searching for some bit of information or are driven to learn whatever is written in the text, then your reading speed improves dramatically too.

Jayesh, Montreal, Canada
February 25, 2013 5:35am

I only find it amusing that an article on speed reading is laid out in such a miserable design.

Speed reading is impossible on THIS web page. Yes.

rogermugs, invisibility, TX
February 25, 2013 5:56am

Some speed reading articles that mention 'eliminating subvocalization' use the example of a deaf person reading. Obviously, someone who is deaf won't subvocalize in the traditional sense, but the article claims that someone can't truly read/comprehend without subvocalization. Anyone have insight into how this works for someone who can read but can't hear?

Enyo, USA
February 25, 2013 7:40am

The akward moment when you are speedreading this article.

Chris, Berlin
February 25, 2013 2:29pm

I have a real "easy" way to improve both speed and comprehension. Go read Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" and Gadamer's "Phenomenology of Spirit". It'll will take you months, you'll understand almost none of it. But any other book you pick up will seem like child's play :P

Alex, CA
February 25, 2013 2:39pm

Good article. The speed reading courses I took in the 80's always stressed that it was a tradeoff between speed and comprehension. Other factors affect reading speed too, like presentation. We tried several different layouts in the classes and compared reading speeds. Narrower columns of text are easier to speed read because it's much easier for your eye to scan. Part of learning to speed read is learning a new text processing algorithm. Dynamically adapting your speed is also key (i.e. slow down on more complex or unfamiliar material). It's so 2nd nature now after all these years, that I had to think thru that learning experience. One of the hardest things for me to overcome was silencing the little voice in your head that reads to you. I have no idea what my reading speed is, but I doubt it's as high as numbers in this article because I tend to favor comprehension over speed. Plus the term "speed reading" sounds gimmicky - it's really learning to read better and training your mind to process text better. Practice. Practice. Practice. I consider speed reading to be a skill that goes in a toolbox of skills to help you perform better (like typing). Read Pragmatic Thinking & Learning by Andy Hunt for an excellent analysis and discussion of how your brain works and how you can learn better by utilizing as much of your brain as possible.

Tony, IN
February 25, 2013 5:00pm

Yes it is possible, especially with tools and software. Checkout blinkread.com

basically it moves the words for you so you don't have to move your eyes which is a large part of why reading is so slow.

Tony, Chicago
February 25, 2013 6:37pm

Great article.

Chirag Visavadia, Vadodara, India
February 25, 2013 8:49pm

I have a technique that I haven't seen anywhere else, and it doesn't require a class. Reply if you care to know.

Ryan Kelker, Internet
February 26, 2013 3:21am

Oh man now I can hear myself reading stuff in my voice and it is DISRUPTIVE! Thanks for the entertaining read.

aditya menon, Hyderabad/India
March 6, 2013 5:28pm

Me Optimist – Alternative explanation (more specifically clarified)
I want2c if any1has thought of improving read skill exactly this way- It’s not new4me this known concept2anything achieved (I take performance2small manageable steps) same4expanding reading ability: –
1.You can focus eyes
2.Eyes in center reading
3.Down this 3 or 5
4.word length text
5.Of these 5 lines
(1 Step-up) It only columns a few words each line, if u could do that then what’s impossible about trying2read those 5 line peripherally, centering your eyes middle of 3rd line –(That possible!) Then what’s stopping us2read text a little further out & moving eyes slightly across2help view longer text peripherally doing the ultimate (Zigzag/Lazy-S Speed-reading.)
1.you can focus eyes in
2.center reading down
3. this 3 or 5 word length
4.text of these 5 lines.
I once Downloaded AceReader-Pro & then bought it – Either way can set on (Sentence-S/Lines Flashes) & drags text width like documents word-wrap -but better; showing only each specific text group presently read (while u exercise in & out - reading those multitude of lines seen narrow, then try reading that dragged wider) u can manually arrow through text own speed OR play it any set unlimited flash speed, with my speed-read strategy & this software I’m giving it a shot2reading multi-lines if not quicker -though mechanically is -more comforting, being less tiring eye motions per saccade.
What all of u think of this? Let get going! The worlds full of brainy people what other/better or different idea R there?
Thx Brian Dunning4such ease2forums entry.

Optimist, Sydney
March 10, 2013 11:34am

I also recommend "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. It has some good advice on increasing comprehension such as identifying keys words and seeing the structure of the ideas. The other side of the coin is to remember these ideas when you are writing to make your prose easier to comprehend.

David, Carrboro
March 18, 2013 11:44am

How to read a book?

I cant get students to read a list of questions and a supplied datat list correctly.

If the aim of speed reading is to read fiction and woo publications faster than we normally would....Fine, but arent you missing that glorious imagery?

If speed reading is developed to read something rich and complex, please put it on your CV so people wont hire you.

Mud, Sin City
May 2, 2013 12:03am

I've explain adapting to reading multiple lines a sight - Now it's

My Speed-Reading Defined
U must try 2 assimilate reading fast as eyes can only (sight text).
Speed of reading determines by your single/group word (recognition speed).
Real-Time speed of your inner subvocalization comes absent due to reading faster than talking speed.
With (2 kinds of Text) - When reading faster than verbal speeds.
(Abstract Text) - Understood message as an overall concept of what it's about!
(Visual Text) - Is to mindfully envisioned!

Optimist, Sydney
May 24, 2013 9:08am

Didnt know we still had them in sin city, but there you go..

Oops, there U go..

Speed reading, a method that ruins prose and defies information transfer..

That and, not very well exhibited for the 40 years that I have come across the notion..

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
July 4, 2013 5:48am

*I have been speed reading since 1978. I learned it in Anaheim, California, under the tutelage of Mr. Jim Ruse, who was a school teacher and who naturally read at 600 wpm when Evelyn Wood discovered him. He was on her original staff. She brought together to study why some people read faster than others. As a teacher, he had already figured out what he did differently and he, along with the others, shared those ideas with Ms. Wood. She developed her course through interviewing him and others.
*Mr. Ruse, in turn, worked for Ms. Wood’s Reading Dynamics and traveled for the company. What was said about John F. Kennedy was true of him and several Whitehouse staffers, because Jim was one of the people who helped develop Reading Dynamics and he was one of those who taught it to the Whitehouse staff.
*There are several people aside from Whitehouse staffers who read in excess of 800 wpm. Jim was one and I am another one who read just under the “physiological” maximum of 1,200 to 1,500 wpm. Jim divided his speed-reading class into two phases, Physiological (sight) reading and Visual (scanning, skimming) reading. Jim was honest in his work and never found anyone who exceeded 1,500 wpm in Physiological Reading.
*On Visual Reading, I ranged between 3,000 to 10,000 wpm, but my comprehension dropped to 35%. I found little value in it. Now, I find it beneficial if I want to speed read a book at 5,000 wpm that I read 30 years ago, then it returns to my memory even at that speed.

Kurt, Las Vegas, NV
August 2, 2013 1:14am

Good kurt, read one of my papers and see how much the wiser you are.

Then crawl over and take notes.

Speed reading may work for news paper articles or general prose but I have not met one yet who can do all he or she claims.

I note that some claim astounding speeds thanks to speed reading. Ive checked back on these speeds and found that reading novels at a comfortable proficient speed is about as fast.

Try it yourself, work out the average word content per page of a novel (its arithmetic) and then count the speed at which you read in pages per hour.

Read for an hour and then sit a comprehension test.

As I have indicated, reading efficiency and proficiency starts when you start reading all the time.

Maybe the speed reading courses have got folk who are unconfident in reading and avoid the practice to parking their tails for a few hours reading each day.

Were it that we all had the time to luxuriate in any sort of exercise, but reading is a great one. Its doesnt break your ankles either.

For those interested in reading real stuff, ask your bus driver where the library is. Kill three birds with one stone..public transport, short walk, get reading material..

Moister Door, Greenacres by the sea Oz
September 17, 2013 4:48pm

Huh - I'd almost always read in the 800-1800 word per minute range (when I was first tested as a kid it was about 600 words per minute), depending on the size and spacing of the text, and the density of the subject matter.

But I have to say, that's a perfect description of how I've already remembered reading: My brain doesn't take in one word after another, or even one line of text or one sentence after another, but it just kind of absorbs paragraph-sized chunks of text all at once.

This, unfortunately, makes it hard for me to stay away from spoilers during conversations on the internet about books and movies and TV shows, because someone can put in a "stop reading now" line and I'll read it at the same time as I read the three sentences after it!

Rachel, Los Angeles
September 17, 2013 8:20pm

I find it interesting that, as a college professor, many colleges offer “speed reading” classes, which seems to quash Mr. Skeptiod’s premise. Barring an impairment, most students immensely increase their reading speed. Mr. Skeptoid compared two extremes—people like Peek, as an anomaly, and frauds, like Trudeau. Let’s not commit the fallacy of the excluded middle in our reasoning when there is ample evidence to the contrary. If a reader begins at 200 WPM and takes a class that speeds his/her rate to 400 WPM, then their reading speed was doubled and the number of books that Mr. Skeptoid complained about not reading in his library would be twice as many. That is “speed reading.” In the comments, the “Optimist” fellow made no sense. The Las Vegas fellow made some good points in bifurcating reading styles. Rereading a book a second time should be faster. By the way, Mr. Skeptoid, in your reply, “Speed reading may work for news paper articles or general prose,” it is “newspaper” where most of us come from, but if you want to read a “news paper,” then have at it. I’m fascinated by your admission that speed reading “may work” even in limited fields, because you neutralized your argument. Commenter “Rachel” may be gifted or perhaps she never learned the bad habits that slow others down. Much of this has to do with parental interaction, as with John Locke and others. With proper training, a slow reader can often read faster, which is the definition of speed reading.

College Prof, Columbus, OH
October 25, 2013 12:45pm

Not a be/end all2faster reading benefits, just another idea of mine to try out.

I say most often Longer words - Specifically give a more Specialized content of Meaningful Keywords into getting the gist of the text. So when reading at faster speeds try Focusing more on the Longest of words (-:

I like being optimistic because we must live only4some kind of constructive advice2gain in life, that it maybe of benefit2some1-4some1 like saying goes you - Dream - Believe - Create & Succeed - (Trevor Hendy Ironman) that 1 day it maybe your day2shine no matter what the weatherman says - (X-Files Voltage).

I'm no expert of any particular educational degree, though I once worked in a sheltered workshop as being considered as some1with a mild intellectual disability LOL - (Me).

Optimistic, Australia
November 20, 2013 1:56am

my one bit of advice would be to remember that it doesn't matter how quick you can read something rather focus first on having a good comprehension of the topic and a reasonable grasp of grammar and pronounciation

Moses from the mouth of the BURNING BUSH, Midian
November 25, 2013 2:36am

I have taught in both high school and college. I have tested all my classes in reading. There are a few people that naturally read up to about 1000 words per minute (WPM). Most high school graduates read at about 250 WPM. It is possible to increase a person's reading speed with no loss of comprehension up to about 1000 WPM. Above 1000 WPM is "speed reading", below that is reading, not skimming, reading. Some of my student read as low as 75 WPM. Not recognizing that this can be improved without loss of comprehension does these students a real disservice. Reading is more complicated than this article states, and more important than most realize. Almost anyone can be taught to read at at least 500 WPM. Anyone that can read at that speed has a real advantage over those that cannot.

John Harrison, Alexandria, Virginia
February 28, 2014 5:50pm

Thx John I support your point.
I've stuck to this possible belief even as a non-talented slow reader - I've started with easy books (Geronimo Stilton's) I've now got like 40 books of them, which are the most visual text ever created on this planet, plenty of animated text with pictures per page, gives a sense of mental training wheels for the reader's mind, I have varied my practices easy to hard, meaning slow/fast/real fast speeds horizontal/vertical swipes a paragraph, I've been practicing every day for yrs & will never quit till my demise, and the reason for this is I'm now comprehending single vertical swipe a page in a second, having this ability I'll never ever quit - LOL I've only worked in a sheltered workshop being seen as someone who's quite intellectual challenged "so they say" & been criticized all my life, I'm now 42 years old where it's gone to the point I will no longer defend my opinions (:
Maybe the truth is; not many really want it bad enough so they'll rather enjoy feeding their sense of pride to criticize & then easily forgetting all about it with no legit effort for themselves, just so they can sleep easy at night -is that right!
So it's best sticking to being "Constructive" to practice than being "Destructive" hampering other people's dream -Enough said.
From the optimistic optimist again, -Australia NSW Sydney.

Optimistic, Australia
March 2, 2014 9:59pm

How much actual practice is required to read at speeds of over 600 wpm, with high comprehension?
One of the problems I have with this whole discussion is the almost unspoken distinction between experts and the rest of us.
For example, which of you could hit a fast ball delivered by a major league pitcher? Probably none, unless you are a trained, elite athlete. Does this mean that hitting a fastball is impossible? No
How many of you can play a Chopin nocturne or prelude? When Tchaikovsky published his violin concerto, it was consider "unplayable", yet it is now part of the standard repertoire for a concert violinist. Could you move your fingers, and comprehend in the manner of a top pianist or violinist? Of course not, unless you had extensive training.
Now let's take it to a higher level: Mozart composed the "Marriage of Figaro" in six weeks, and composed the overture to Don Giovanni hours before its first performance. Perhaps we should ask HOW he was able to do such things?
Is is possible then that Howard Stephen Berg has found a way yo read and comprehend fast, and yet does not really know exactly how he does this, and cannot teach it? High level performers rarely know precisely how they do what they do, they only describe the experience of it.
I find the "it can't be done, because I and other average, untrained people can't do it" attitude somewhat absurd.
The "impossible" can become easy for those who practice a sound method, that has been able to produce past results.

Neil Myers, Mystic, CT, USA
March 5, 2015 7:26am

Make a comment about this episode of Skeptoid (please try to keep it brief & to the point).

Post a reply


What's the most important thing about Skeptoid?

Support Skeptoid

The Flying Saucer Menace
Skeptoid #486, Sep 29 2015
Read | Listen (12:29)
Holocaust Denial
Skeptoid #485, Sep 22 2015
Read | Listen (12:54)
More Unsung Women of Science
Skeptoid #484, Sep 15 2015
Read | Listen (12:56)
Unsung Women of Science
Skeptoid #483, Sep 8 2015
Read | Listen (13:13)
Sir Franklin's Cannibals
Skeptoid #482, Sep 1 2015
Read | Listen (12:13)
#1 -
The St. Clair Triangle UFO
Read | Listen
#2 -
Tube Amplifiers
Read | Listen
#3 -
Read | Listen
#4 -
That Elusive Fibromyalgia
Read | Listen
#5 -
SS Iron Mountain
Read | Listen
#6 -
A Skeptical Look at the News
Read | Listen
#7 -
The War of the Worlds Panic Broadcast
Read | Listen
#8 -
Ancient Astronauts
Read | Listen

Recent Comments...

[Valid RSS]

  Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Brian Dunning on Google+   Skeptoid on Stitcher   Skeptoid RSS

Members Portal


Follow @skeptoid

Tweets about skeptoid

Support Skeptoid

Email: [Why do we need this?]To reduce spam, we email new faces a confirmation link you must click before your comment will appear.
characters left. Abusive posts and spam will be deleted.