Tuesday, 10 April 2012

How fast can you read this post?

Posted by Alison Innerd

I am a competitive person.

When it comes to reading speed I think I am definitely the winner in my household. If my partner and I are reading something together I always end up twiddling my thumbs whilst I wait for him to finish. So when I recently attended a speed reading course it crossed my mind that it could be a waste of time. I am clearly already the Usain Bolt of reading. 

Alison Innerd - the Usain Bolt of the reading world?
Oh dear, how wrong I was! The first task was to read a piece of text for full comprehension, at normal pace for one minute and then count how many words you had read. I totalled 280. Which is within average (just) but others were getting double my score. Suddenly I felt like the ‘slow’ one in class. In my defence, other people on the course were professors so obviously a PhD student would read a lot slower. That was my excuse anyway.

I went on the course because I thought it would be brilliant to read my huge pile of journal articles in as little time as possible. Now I’m wondering whether this is a sensible idea - surely if you read fast you miss important information? Well, apparently that is not true. The trick is smooth reading. You want your eyes to focus on the words and not skip around or get distracted.

Here is the scientific bit: you have two sets of muscles in your eyes which control the lens and motion. If your eye muscles are jerky, you miss sections or read a section twice which makes reading confusing. If your eyes demonstrate smooth motion and lens control you keep presenting a steady stream of information to your mind. Maybe it is a bit more complicated than that. But it makes sense to me.

To read smoothly, ideally you need a pacer or a reading weapon such as a pen, your finger or a chopstick. Basically anything which is pointy enough to run under the words. You get your reading weapon and run it either under each word or along the side of the page. This stops your eyes from jerking and increases comprehension.

This might sound a bit ‘primary school’ but give it a go and see what you think. I used a pacer in the first task (without being told to) so I was slightly concerned with my poor performance even with the super powers of a reading weapon.

As with all physical skills you also need to do eye training. You are meant to practice speed reading every day. And yes, you do get eye ache! We were given a 25 day speed reading training programme but needless to say I have not adhered it, although I do keep telling myself I must start.....

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