You may have heard that there are some people who claim to read thousands of words a minute, and hearing that begs the question, is speed reading real?
I think we all can agree it would be nice to be able to whip through work or school assignments a little faster, or just finally get to that book list you have had for ages.
But when it comes to increasing your reading speed, what is a realistic goal, and what claims are just a load of crap.
Let’s take a look at what is real when it comes to speed reading, while still considering the ability to comprehend the material.
What is Speed Reading?
The phrase speed reading usually refers to the use of certain techniques to read words a lot faster than a person normally would .
While speed reading, the reader will usually skim or scan for words that are important to understand the context.
This allows the reader to get through the reading material a lot faster as they are not actually taking the time to read every word.
The ultimate goal for speed reading is to be able to read faster while still being able to understand what you have read.
This can be a tricky task as it is naturally harder to understand the faster you try to read.
Speed Reading Competitions
One good source of proof that speed reading is real is the fact there are several speed reading championships held around the world each year.
While a competition alone does not mean it is real, these are well tested and regulated tournaments.
The reading competition rules usually require the test of both the reader’s speed and their ability to comprehend the material.
They first choose a book that none of the participants have read to ensure no one has an edge.
For instance, in the European Speed Reading Championship in 2018 they chose a newly published book, Implanted by Lauren Teffeau.
They measure the raw reading speed and calculate it in with the results of a comprehension test.
The winner, Alex Holloway, was able to read 1,700 words per minute with high comprehension.
The consistency and regulations of these championships give validity to the claims that it is really possible to speed read.
How Fast Can We Read?
If you could read a million words a minute but didn’t understand what you read, would there be any point to it?
This is a very important thought as we consider claims of who the fastest reader in the world is to this day.
The two most famous speed readers, Howard Berg and Maria Teresa Calderon, both claimed to be able to read over 25,000 words per minute.
There are naturally many critics of these two because that is over 12 times as fast as the current speed reading champions.
It is believed that they could have possibly pre-read material to help them with speed or to aid them with comprehension.
However, these claims are hard to prove or disprove, and the best place to look for a reading speed ceiling is the previously mentioned speed reading champions.
If you calculate your reading speed you will clock in at nowhere close to 25,000 wpm.
The average reading speed is somewhere between 200-300 words per minute, and the champion speed readers are able to comprehend well at near 2000.
While becoming a professional speed reader is rare and a lofty goal, it does seem to be possible to read up to at least this 2000 words per minute mark.
Before you make that your ultimate passion and goal in life first consider that students at doctorate degree level read somewhere roughly in the 400-800 wpm range.
These are students that study and read at en extremely high-level every day, but maybe that is what you are going for.
The bottom line is that it is gonna take some work either way and not as easy as advertised to drastically improve your reading speed.
How to Read Faster
So how do we actually increase our reading speed?
While there are many speed reading tips and tricks that help in small ways, there are three essential things that are echoed by the best speed readers that have been proven to help.
1. Guiding Your Eyes With Your Hand
This simple technique can help in many ways. It not only helps eliminate distraction by guiding your eye but can also help you maintain a set pace.
You may pause more than you think, and re-read words that you already fully understood.
With practice, this hand guiding technique will allow you to set a challenging pace while still maintaining understanding.
There are also people who just have to be using their hands in some way.
Feeling the pages and actively moving the hand can be a game-changer for those who really lack attention and focus.
For those people, it might be better to have a physical book rather than be reading a book online.
2. Reduce Subvocalization
The process of saying the words in your mind as you are reading is called subvocalizing.
Learning to stop or reduce subvocalization is a great way to speed up your reading. This process may take some time as you likely learned to read by subvocalizing.
Getting away from this habit of sounding out or repeating words in your head can be a tough one to break.
Easy ways to battle subvocalization include: listening to music, chewing gum, or using your hand while reading like mentioned before.
Just remember subvocalization can help with comprehension. It is important to make sure you are still understanding properly while trying to reduce subvocalization or there is no point.
3. Studying Your Language
Many experts agree the best way to read faster with comprehension is to become a more skilled user of your language.
This simply suggests you do all you can to study your language and increase your vocabulary with constant practice and by challenging yourself.
We all want simple magic tricks that turn us into superhuman book absorbers, but the best way is to just practice as it is with any other skill.
The more you know the easier it becomes to piece bits of information together with less context. The key is just experience. Where have you heard that before?
It is true that even if you are a grown adult you can improve your reading speed.
However, if you are already at average or above-average reading speed, it is very unlikely you will be able to largely increase your speed in a short period of time.
There are many courses and schools that claim to be able to increase your reading speed by up to 300% in minutes, hours, or a few weeks.
You have to be realistic when you think about improving a skill like reading. While you may be able to double or triple your reading speed over time, it is going to take a while.
That being said, learning to improve your reading speed and comprehension is an awesome hobby. It can be a very fun and addicting but a worthwhile goal to have.