I recently passed the local library for the first time in a couple of years (just no time!) and picked up Tony Buzan’s Speed Reading book. I’ve been working through the exercises and self tests and have jumped from 271 words per minute to 385 since Monday. For someone who reads so much I was disappointed to find that my reading rate was only average!
The art of reading fast isn’t voodoo, Buzan reckons it goes back to the fact that most of us learned phonetically or by subvocalising, and then we never learned to increase this speed. There’s a big correlation between education level and reading speed, and it’s not because they’re more intelligent necessarily, more that they’ve had to read more things in a limited amount of time. Because of this, anyone can learn to read faster.
The basic principles are: our eyes and brain process words very quickly up to about 1/500 of a second per word. They also take in information over wide area at once, meaning you can read more than one word at a time. So as you improve, you learn to read along a line without stopping at each word, then take two lines at a time, then scan downwards through the page.
Although the next challenge is to make sure all your reading material is laid out optimally! I found a web app, Spreeder, that takes a chunk of text and presents it to you word by word, in chunks at a speed and size you prefer. So you can play with the settings and see what 220 wpm (average) looks like. Then adjust the speed, size of text and size of the paragraphs to train.
What I’d like now is a Firefox plugin for this so I can take any page and Spreederfy it with my normal settings! There’s a bookmarklet that just about works, I can live with that I suppose.