Books & Review
Updated: Jul 19, 2019 08:46 AM EDT

Reading Apps

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Speed reading applications claim that they can allow you to read a book in a matter of minutes. The more realistic speed-reading techniques will enable you to skim over as much as five hundred words per minute - a far more believable rate.

Reading through the work of a website design agency would be significantly more comfortable with speed reading...or would it? Popular Science claims that most speed-reading proponents are lying when they offer anything above one-thousand-word reading speeds since humans tend to lose comprehension rapidly after that point. Despite this fact, speed-reading is still a useful skill for some, but the more complex the material the reader is consuming, the slower the reading has to be to grasp the concepts.

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Lifehacker mentions that if you try to read at the rate speed-readers claim you should be able to in composite material, you lose the art of subvocalization making the comprehension of the piece impossible []. University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Keith Rayner mentions to Skeptoid that the average reading speed of a college student is around 200 to 400 words per minute, with the average at 300 words per minute.

Even by pushing the upper limit of reading to 400 words per minute makes it nearly impossible for the reader to grasp any meaning from what they learned, defeating the entire purpose. While it's impossible for someone to speed read to such an extent, there are a few things the average user can leverage to make for more comprehensible reading.

1. Improve Word Recognition

In the case of most readers, the catching point is the ability to perform the subvocalization of words. Less recognizable words require the reader to stop and mull them over before continuing. Improving your vocabulary can make you a more efficient reader by giving you a basis for your subvocalization. Reading more grows vocabulary, but it also makes for much faster reading overall, especially if you develop fluency with the words you encounter.

2. Give it a Once Over

Skimming can help improve comprehension by setting the stage for the actual reading. Skimming doesn't mean trying to read the text at all but just letting the most visually outstanding words draw your eyes. In some cases, those words would be unfamiliar, allowing you to subvocalize them before you read. Skimming the page before attempting to read it can help the overall speed of reading afterward since the strange word or words are more fluent. Your brain has had time to familiarize itself with the new word or words' form, function, and pronunciation beforehand.

3. Deep Processing for Retention

Speed reading doesn't consider retention. If you want to learn something, it requires a more in-depth approach than speed reading. Highlighting text can lead to the long-term preservation of ideas. The journal Cross-Cultural Communication notes that in a class of students, those that highlighted information retained it better, and those that used underlining as their method of highlighting had even higher retention rates of the information they read. Other methods include taking paraphrased paragraphs to grasp the concept in your own words, familiarizing the idea.

4. Use the Structure to Gain Insight

Approaching a text to learn what's inside is aided by knowing what you intend to get out of the book. Knowing what you're looking for primes you to recognize words and phrases as they appear and help your brain to internalize them. Even though this is useful, it doesn't apply to some works. Fiction, for example, isn't something that one can know the outcome of, apart from reading the last chapter first. In the artistic sense, it's useful NOT knowing the outcome before it arrives to achieve the sense of wonder the author crafted through his or her novel.

Speed Reading or Gradual Understanding?

As we've seen, the reality of speed reading is that it doesn't benefit the reader. It might be a good party trick, but, likely, the reader wouldn't remember anything they read. To retain information, we must gradually read, internalize, and process. Subvocalization is the key to this process. The average reading speed is around 300 words per minute, and while some people might even be able to push themselves up to 400 words per minute, the faster they read, the less they retain. Speed reading doesn't work. If someone tells you that it does, they're probably trying to sell you something.

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