Speed Reading

Reading is one of our most important skills. We gain information, instruction and entertainment from books, ebooks, websites and much more. So it’s understandable that many of us would like to learn to read faster. That’s the objective of speed reading.

What Is Speed Reading?

The term speed reading is used to refer to any number of methods of increasing reading speed. This can range from simple tricks and techniques to complex, integrated systems. You can buy books, tapes, courses and even software that claims to help teach you how to increase your average reading speed. The best known of these are probably the various products from Howard Berg, Tony Buzan and Peter Kump.

Does Speed Reading Work?

Yes, most of us can certainly be trained to read more quickly. But that’s not really the question. For reading to be useful it must be accompanied by comprehension and retention.

For this reason many speed reading techniques concentrate on not reading! Or, more accurately, on reading what needs to be read and not reading what doesn’t. These techniques are often an advanced form of “skimming”, where you cover the material quickly and only spend time on what really matters.

Many such techniques are excellent for getting a grasp on subjects quickly. Unfortunately they sometimes fail when deeper knowledge is required. Most books aren’t written with speed-readers in mind and important nuggets of information can easily be missed.

Speed reading is also a curious concept when applied to fiction. Yes, it is possible to read fiction very quickly and know the plot – but arguably that misses half the point.

Speed reading certainly can be useful and has its place. However it’s important to recognise its limitations as well.


So how do you learn speed reading? Here are a couple of the basic techniques and methods often employed by speed readers:


When we learn to read, we usually run a finger along the page. As we improve we stop doing this – not needing a pointer is considered a sign of skill. However some speed reading courses argue that, if used properly, a pointer can actually assist in faster reading by helping to concentrate the eye.


Rather than reading a word at a time, some speed-readers train themselves to read in larger “chunks”. This is not easy but can reportedly increase overall reading speed.


Many readers subconsciously “subvocalise” what they read, effectively saying the words to themselves silently. This is said by some to slow down reading. However for many it appears to improve retention, especially when key words and phrases are subvocalised.


Starting at the beginning and going on to the end makes sense when reading a novel. Does it make sense when reading non-fiction? Many books contain asides, background, examples etc that may be interesting and provide depth but are not neeed for getting an initial grasp on the subject. Reading the index and looking at headings, etc can help the reader be more selective about how they spend their time. The danger, of course, is that important information is missed – especially if the author is developing an argument.

Photo Reading

Photo Reading is a very specific form of speed reading initially developed by Paul Scheele and now marketed by the Learning Strategies Corporation (“PhotoReading” is a trademark of Learning Strategies Corporation).

Photo reading isn’t really “reading” in the traditional sense. Rather it involves “mentally photographing” the contents of a page and absorbing the meaning through a subconscious process. It is described as a “whole mind” system.

Personally I’ve not managed to make it work.