For years speed reading has been a skill taught by “experts” and more and more each day you find out about apps that are willing to teach you the technique of speed reading.

But, is it truly possible to someone to read 1,200 words a minute or it’s just a good marketing scheme?

At glance, the reality is that we’re inclined to read 200-400 words per minute, but speed readers are able to do it with an impressive 1200-1700 word per minute.

There are many methods of speed reading and you only need to scroll down for a detailed approach.

Some methods of speed reading

Reading is fundamentally a mechanical process. You look at a word or multiple words (this phase is known as “fixation”) and you need for this around .25 seconds, given or take. You continue by moving your eye to the next word or group of words and this is known as “saccade”, taking you around .1 second most of the times. After you did this once or twice, you need to make a pause to understand the phrase you just looked at. You shouldn’t need more than 0.3 to 0.5 seconds on regular basics.

When you’re adding up all the fixations and saccades, plus the understanding pauses, you get an average speed reading of 200-400words per minute (95% of all college-level readers have this speed).

A speed reader is going to shorten the fixation on a word as he’s able to cut down on sub vocalization. With speed reading, you’re aiming to be faster than 0.3-0.5 seconds.

The main rule in getting faster at reading

You may have realized it by now, but when you read you are actually hearing the words in your mind and also say them.

In speed reading, you’re not going to be doing that and there are many ways to learn speed reading. Just because they’re various, doesn’t mean you can’t put them in some main categories, though: skimming, meta guiding and Rapid Serial Visual Presentation.

Taking a fast look throughout your text to identify the most important parts to read is known as skimming. Many consider this to be a speed reading method, but you’re not actually teaching yourself to read faster. As a matter of fact, your kind of learning which are the parts that you may skip on. Keep in mind that studies have shown that we’re not memorizing many details when skimming.

One of the oldest methods out there when it comes to speed reading is meta guiding. You’re basically using a finger (a pen or any other pointer will do as well) to guide your eyes to certain words. The main idea is to minimize distraction and to focus only on the specific words so that you may grow your reading speed.

Some use as a method “reading” several lines altogether by increasing your peripheral vision, whereas many apply the Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). In this method you’re only focusing on a single word at a time as single words appear on the screen. The more you’re using the method, the faster the display of words is going to get.

Speed reading and comprehension

Not only the idea of reading 1000words at once is great, but it’s also possible when using the right method. The truth is though that you’re not really understanding those words. We can’t say there are many studies on the subject, but, from what we know so far, there are specialists that don’t really “buy” the speed reading efficiency.

Let’s say that you may push your limits to see 500 words per minute, but you still depend on your eyes and the anatomy of the retina. In order to get a text, you’re going to have to move your eyes and put the fovea on your focusing part of the text.

  • Acuity diminishes drastically outside the fovea though and you can’t really distinguish the words placed far away from the fovea. This counts a lot when reading, not to mention on how fast your brain may be when processing the information.
  • If we’re talking about eliminating sub vocalization by using meta guiding, the specialists warn us once again. You may get as fast as you can and want when it comes to reading, but the comprehension may suffer. As many speed reading methods include the elimination of sub vocalization, it has been proven that comprehension gets ruined, especially if the text is complex.
  • The risks are high even in the case of reading several lines at the same time and the main reason for that is that you can’t actually get more information by simply eye fixation. As far as the biology tells us about the physiology of the retina, it’s not natural for it to take in two lines of text at once.
  • As for the digital system, RSVP, the main concern comes from the working memory. As words come very fast, the working memory becomes overloaded and you can’t really deal with all the words that come to fast at some point.

The conclusion is the faster you read, the less you understand. You don’t take the information in anymore, losing the whole purpose of reading anyway. The problem is more serious in the case of RSVP (and all the apps that are using it) as you can’t really look back to read once again the text, overloading your short term memory. The results? You don’t remember much!

The other side of the table

The speed reading fans aren’t satisfied though and don’t sit at the tables and watch the “cons” rolling. For instance, letting your eyes rest on a single point actually helps you read faster. This doesn’t eliminate the problem of working memory, though.

You need to take a step back when reading these results as most studies were in fact conducted by the companies selling the speed reading methods. Even though some methods have a scientific base, the studies still aren’t scientifically proved.

Ever heard of “The Third Word Rule”?

The third word rule” lets you skim your text even faster as you’re skipping the first and the last two words when reading.

This rule works because you skim through a block of text and your peripheral vision is able to pick up the words on each end of the line, without having to focus on them. It’s a “reading with the eyes” and is great for getting the basic ideas in your text.

You may use it for both long and short lines of text. This gives you more time, but it’s not that efficient if you’re trying the get every detail of your text. It works though when you’re identifying key words and concepts in a hurry.

The apps on speed reading

Speed reading is very popular today and the speed reading apps are successful when you’re going over some boring stories in your emails, but not when you do need to actually understand your reading.

There are situations when speed reading is useful though and you may depend on skimming if you’re cramming in school or going over something that isn’t that important anyway.

  • OpenSpritz is an extension based on Spritz techniques. In RSVP the words are flashing one at a time, but Spritz also highlights one letter of each word to keep the eye position even.
  • Spreed is a Chrome extension that relies on RSVP technique, flashing words on your screen. You simply select your text and Spreed does everything else for you.
  • Outread/Velocity/Syllable are all three iOs apps that are based on various techniques to teach you speed reading from your phone.

Outread uses a lot of meta guiding, whereas Velocity and Syllable are using variations of RSVP. They all extract articles from your bookmarking services so you may get through your personal backlog of reading texts.

Some find any of these methods exhausting as they do require focus and mental effort to speed read, not alone to mention the information you’re losing.

You can’t really stop and really think about an idea when speed reading, which some simply can’t go over it.

Reading books or speed reading books?

You need to know exactly when and why you want to speed read as even though this method has its benefits, it still comes with a big fat con: you’re losing some of the comprehension or your reading.

It’s great to use speed reading though when you have to go by tomorrow morning through a big pile of materials so missing out some isn’t tragic.

It’s also safe to say and wise for anyone to realize that speed reading techniques aren’t going to turn you into a super-fast reading comprehension machine either. More efficient and faster one, for sure, but not a SF reading machine.