How Fast Do You Read?

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 bookSomething that many avid readers may not be very familiar with is the speed at which they read. My interest in this subject was initially brought on when a friend directed me towards the article, “14 books you could read in the time it takes to watch the Super Bowl” This article points out that in the time spent sitting on the couch watching a football game, you could also be reading a number of works of great literature. The author cites F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea as examples. I was not confident in my abilities in completing some of these books during this amount of time, and I began to question my speed-reading ability.

Coincidentally, I later stumbled upon a speed-reading test created by Staples as part of an e-book promotion. This test measures the time it takes for the reader to complete a short passage, and asks three short comprehension questions after. The test demonstrated that my speed-reading skills are equivalent to the average high school junior, but surprisingly enough, still 30% above the national average. Although I cannot speak for the accuracy of the test, I was a little disappointed that the average college student was reading 150 more words per minute than I was. My disappointment motivated me to research this subject further.

 According to the Forbes article, “Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, the national average for reading is 300 words per minute. The author of this article points out that at this rate, the average adult spends two hours reading basic material throughout a typical day. A high level executive reads closer to 600 words per minute, twice as fast as the regular adult. I began to question how I could improve my reading speed. After finding some entirely unhelpful guides, I was able to come up with a rough list of some accepted practices that enhance how fast you can read.

 Eliminating sub vocalization is supposed to help you read faster because your brain can actually register words much quicker without having to wait for you to talk to yourself.

 Eliminating re-reading by reading at a pace where you are not skipping over sentences can help you to stay focused. It is estimated that about 30% of what people read is re-read.

 Meta-guiding is the practice of using a pencil or a notecard to keep pace and smooth direction while one is reading

 Utilize peripheral vision by taking in groups of four or five words at a time instead of reading linearly from left to right. This method takes practice to get the reader used to using a different part of their vision, but can greatly increase the speed at which you can read.

Although Staples’ unsettling reading test did make me question my ability, I was glad to be able to find some tips that I had never thought about when reading. I recognize that there is much more to being a skilled reader than just the sheer speed at which you can inhale words. To view many other methods to become a proficient and successful reader, check out Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s book How to Read a Book. This is a valuable guide to perfecting many of the other aspects of reading and comprehension. Although reading quickly is far from the most important aspect of reading, I would say that speed-reading is an often-overlooked skill that can have great benefits for the reader if improved. Do you know any helpful hints for increasing reading speed? Or is this an aspect of reading that is not important enough to spend time improving?

About Christian Kennedy

Christian Kennedy is an English and Accounting and Business Administration double major at Washington and Lee. He enjoys writing music and loves spending time outdoors exploring the Shenandoah Valley.

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One Response to How Fast Do You Read?

  1. Rod Smith says:

    In Praise of Slowness
    I read fast when I was young, galloping through the James Bond novels to learn all the misinformation about rocket telemetry and fashion tips about Rolexes, Sea Island silk shirts and Saville Row suits, plus ballistic tips on Berettas and Walther PPKs. What I missed were the nuanced dynamics among the characters and the atmospherics of Kingston, Istanbul, the Riviera and Tokyo. I rushed through Treasure Island and all the Tom Swift adventure stories, too. But I think I was giving the books the attention they asked for. Growing older (then old), I resurrected the practice of sub-vocalization and slowed to more deliberate gaits. Many of the books I’d read fast when young really became visceral, and I found that they were musical, as well (Gatsby!), though I understand that growing older and altering my threshold of attention also contributed to feeling the shadows (and the fire, as Salinger said) between the words. I suppose that’s writerly behavior, to some extent. Young, I wanted to know who did what to whom and why. Now I want to know how the author delivers this information while investing it with emotional charge.

    I believe speed reading ability is useful, as is the savoring deliberate pace required by Flannery O’Connor or John Gardner. Maybe it’s advisable to develop several reading modes and to apply them according to the text and the reason for reading the text. My favorite kind of reading is not only slow but aloud, feeling the language with the available physiological apparatus (“milktongue,” as Donald Hall has dubbed it) with pauses and echoes, a willingness to, as William Stafford put it “hear the wilderness listen.”

    The downside for me has been that the overdrive reading gear is harder for me to shift into, and I find myself trying to savor the farm news, which won’t reward that approach. Always a matter of trade-offs, isn’t it?

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