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Updated: May 19, 2023

Speed Reading

Speed Reading – a way of reading and understanding written texts faster than normal, often using particular techniques that can be learned.

Cambridge Dictionary

Speed Reading – the process of rapidly recognizing and absorbing phrases or sentences on a page all at once, rather than identifying individual words. It is any of several techniques used to improve one’s ability to read quickly and involves chunking and minimizing subvocalization.

I was first introduced to the notion of speed reading as a tool back in my college days. Before then, I had only heard the term in passing. In fact, prior to college, I had been instructed only to read slowly and methodically for clarity and better understanding. During this period it is safe to conclude that I held no personal need for speed. I now would say that I did not fully grasp how increasing my reading and comprehension skills would benefit me. As my commitments grew and the time I had to dedicate to these committals shrank, I began to look more into time management. It was clear that the volume of reading, studying and researching I was able to do had dwindled also. That’s when a friend, who was enrolling in a speed reading course at the time, reintroduced the idea that I should look into it. Anyone who knows me, also knows that due diligence is one of the codes I live by. It was definitely logical that increasing my rate of speed and comprehension meant that I could absorb more material. This meant that I could read more books, cover a greater amount of subject matter and spend less time reading and more time completing other tasks. It sounded like one of those win/wins I had been hearing so much about. So I turned my focus to learning what techniques are involved and just how speed reading came to be. It is my pleasure to share my findings with my Q2 family. Hopefully you will find a way to tailor these powerful tools to your individual selves and find improvement.


Unbelievably it was the experiments on visual acuity that led to the first notions of speed reading. Their testing led to the development of the tachistoscope, which was designed to flash images on a screen at varying rates. These images were reduced in size as the flashing rate was increased. The results of these studies related directly to reading. The U.S. Air Force improved upon this methodology and found that full recognition by the reader had increased. Over time reading speeds could be increased from reading rates to skimming rates. Visual processing was improved, so the next studies focused on training eye movements. Soon new reading courses were created using the tachistoscope to increase reading speed. However, findings also showed that latency between uses of the machine allowed speed increases to diminish. Subsequent to these discoveries, Harvard Business School produced the first course designed to increase visual processing and thereby reading speed.

While incredible speed increases were possible, no long lasting results had been demonstrated. That would change in the late 1950’s when a portable device was developed for promoting speed increases. The researcher Evelyn Nielsen Wood was an American educator and business person. She set out to understand why some people were naturally faster at reading than other. As she attempted to force herself to read faster, frustration caused her to throw the book she was reading to the floor. Upon retrieving the dusty book, she began brushing off the pages. She discovered that the sweeping motion of her hand across the page helped her eyes to move smoothly across the page. Evelyn started using her finger as a pacer and the Wood Method was born. Her new method was first taught at the University of Utah, before launching it to the public as Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics in Washington D.C. in 1959 (


Almost every reader subvocalizes, or moves their throat as they imagine speaking the words. This may help the reader to remember concepts but is a major barrier to speed. A few techniques to keep this to a minimum are: (1)Chew gum or hum while you read. This occupies muscles used to subvocalize. (2)If you move your lips while you read, hold a finger against them. Cover words you’ve already read. As you read your eyes do not move from left to right, letter-to-letter, word-to-word in a straight steady line. Your brain simply gives you the impression that they do. Eye movement research shows that our eyes move unevenly across the page, going back occasionally, skipping some words, and fixating on others (Paulson&Goodman, 2011). The small, rapid, jerky movements that our eyes make are called saccades. When your eye movement stops is called a fixation. Regression is when your eyes go back to check on a word. Regression also occurs when we fail to understand what we are reading. According to a 2019 article, “Eye Movement During Reading” by Professor Andrew Johnson, when reading our eyes fixate on only about 60% of the words we read. With unfamiliar material we fixate on more words; with familiar material fixation is less frequent. This means our eyes skip 40% of the actual words on the page. We believe we are reading every word because our brain fills in the blanks. Using an index card or bookmark to cover words right after we read them will train us to avoid overusing this habit.

*Research had revealed that there are limits to how many words readers can see at once.

· We can read eight letters to the right of our eye position, but just four letters to the left.

· We notice letters 9 – 15 spaces to the right, but cannot read them clearly.

· We don’t process words on other lines. Training ourselves to skip lines is extremely challenging.

Another technique for gaining speed is to teach our eyes to make fewer movements. Our brains decide when to advance to the next word based on word-length and familiarity. We can read faster if we train our eyes to move to specific places on the page. Training ourselves to recognize pivotal words and phrases will help us to understand what’s coming next. Repetitive phrases such as “in other words,” and “to reiterate,” probably means that information is about to be repeated and we can skim. Cause-and-effect words, on the other hand, should be focused on. These words include “because,” “so,” “consequently,” and “therefore.” Summarizing phrases like “for these reasons,” and “in conclusion,” will be followed by information that can broaden our subject view.

Skimming – reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material.

- Butte College

When using the skimming technique we focus on the main idea and concept. This works best with non-fiction material. Read only what is important to the concept. Stop for interesting facts and quickly continue skimming the book. Pay less attention to the minute details and lengthy descriptions. Read the introductory and the conclusion paragraph carefully. Search for headings and subheadings to get a good grasp of the idea.

Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts. While skimming tells you what general information is within a section, scanning helps you locate a particular fact. Skimming is like snorkeling and scanning is more like pearl diving.

- Butte College

Scanning is the technique of searching the work for specific text such as keywords. Again we should search headings and subheadings, but this time to grasp the idea, as to where your required detail will be located. This will train your brain to understand, comprehend and remember a lot faster.

· Scanning requires one to have a look at the whole document quickly at least once.

· Scanning requires a higher understanding of word recognition compared to skimming.

Many scholars say that it is a good idea to train your reflexes first, and then practice until your comprehension skills catch up to the pace.

· Move your finger or pointer along the text. Count “one one thousand” at a calm pace. Continue until you reach the end of the line. Practice trying to read at the pace of your finger. Focus less on comprehension right now. Focus on the text and keep your eyes moving with the finger.

· Take a quick rest, then increase the pace. Repeat this constantly increasing the speed.

· Practice makes perfect. Train like this until the desired reading and comprehension speeds are obtained.

*The overall process of gathering information that includes both skimming and scanning among its most affective techniques is called previewing.


MANAGING DISTRACTIONS – create a relaxing environment with as few distractions as possible. Minimize the number of interruptions while reading to enhance focus and comprehension.

EASE INTO IT – While learning and practicing these techniques, choose uncomplicated novels or works to read. This will allow us to gauge which techniques work best for us.

MAKE IT RELATABLE – as you read the text compare it to something that is personal and relatable to yourself. This will assist with comprehension and recollection.


When increasing our reading speed, most of us find it very difficult to remember or recall what we have read. SQ3R helps us to do just that. This method involves five steps designed to get you closer to full comprehension of text. Francis Pleasant Robinson developed the method in 1946. His book “Effective Study” is now used for enhanced understanding in almost every learning situation.

· Survey – survey the piece to get a quick idea of the content and structure of the reading. This is preparing the mind.

· Question – prepare questions to go over as you read the material. One suggested way is to turn paragraph titles into questions. For example, a title such as “Women in the Civil War,” could turn into the question: “Who were the women in the Civil War, what did they do and when?

· Read – keep your questions in mind as you read. This step can be combined with other techniques such as scanning or active reading.

· Recite – this is when we go back to answer the questions we created. Be sure to comprehend what you read and understand how it answers the question.

· Review – take mental notes or say aloud what you have learned. Do this without looking at your notes or the text to check what has or has not been retained.

Many of these techniques include aspects of active and passive reading methods. Active reading involves a more intimate, detailed engagement with the text before, during and after reading. I am including this chart which will help to discern the differences.



Adjust how you read depending on the type of text and context within which you're reading.

Read each text the same way.

Examine the purpose of the assignment before reading.

Read without examining the purpose of the assignment.

Alter your reading speed as you read based on the significance and difficulty of each passage.

Read everything at the same speed.

Preview a text before reading by skimming headings, topic sentences, and key words.

Don't preview; just jump right into reading.

Read with questions in mind.

Read without questions in mind.

Stop to monitor your understanding of the text as you read.

Don't stop to think about whether you are understanding what you are reading.

Annotate while you read: read with a pencil or highlighter in hand to mark important passages and jot down notes.

Don't annotate. Don't have anything in hand. Just read.

Make time to reflect upon and evaluate what you have read.

Don't make time to reflect upon and evaluate what you have read.

I cannot emphasize enough how integral a part training is to speed reading success. Individuals learn different things at different rates. Finding out which methods work best for each of us allows us to customize how we train our brains to maximize results. Also, different methods work best for different types of reading materials. I encourage you to utilize a variety of these techniques until best practices become evident. Remember tha the blue text has links. That is all for now Q2 family! Carpe Diem!

Read like your life depends on it . . .





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