Questions from Brendan and others

Sometimes people email me with questions about speed reading. I thought I would share with some recent ones with my replies.

Brendan asked about guiding technique:

‘As for the guide I don’t know if I am doing it right. As the guide (my finger or pen) is moving along the page should my eye “jump” at different intervals to read the words? (Ideally in 4-6 words per “visual gulp.”)’

When you are a beginner, you can ‘over-think’ technique. Here is my reply:

‘Let your eyes track along with the guide. Let them get on with the seeing part of reading. Allow your brain to sort out the meaning. If you are thinking about what your eyes are doing, that’s exactly what you will be thinking about. Instead, focus on the meaning of what you are reading.’

People often ask me how quickly they can pick up the skill. How long will it take for them to read as fast as I do?

‘A lot depends on how you define reading, what you are reading and the length of time you are reading. Then there are things such as how familiar you are with that type of material, how skilled you are as a reader, etc.

You can glance through a 300 page book and get an overview of what’s in it in ten minutes. Most people can scan very quickly in this way. 10,000 wpm is possible.

Reading with comprehension (i.e., knowing what the main ideas are and how they are supported) is a different level of skill. A 7 year old child genius reached 3100 wpm over a minute with 3 hours tuition. I thought he was amazing. He had good understanding of what he read. With a similar amount of tuition, an adult O.U. student reached 3,300 wpm, an exceptionally fast speed for a beginner.

The next stage for beginners is to build the length of time spent speed reading. What is the best way to practise? Find something motivating to read.

For those who love books and reading, practising the skill is fun. I love speed-reading detective fiction. Yesterday I enjoyed Thomas Enger’s ‘Cursed’ at speed. Speed allows me to keep the plot details in mind as the author switches the narrative focus to different characters. A novel with several plot lines and multi viewpoints is a great brain workout!

People can pick up the skill very quickly. It takes time to develop it and there are a lot of things that affect how quickly that happens. Each person is different.

Occasionally people ask about organising speed reading competitions in their own languages. Here is my reply to a recent enquiry.

‘First of all, you need at least six would-be competitors.

You will need someone who is not a competitor to contact publishers. You will need copies of an unpublished book for the competitors to read at the competition. Fiction is best, as the competitors would not know what to expect when reading it.

You need someone to write questions. In the MSO competition, there were 30 questions over the entire book. These were not multiple choice questions.

You will need publicity and a venue.

You need to have people to time the competition. Ideally, you will need one stopwatch per competitor.

The competition takes one hour. If someone finishes, he or she raises a hand. The stopwatch is stopped. The competitor hands over the book and receives the sheet of questions.

At the end of an hour, people are told to stop reading. They mark the book where they have finished and each book is identified as that person’s book. They hand over their books and are given the questions. They write answers to the questions and hand these in.

The competition is scored by speed in words per minute x percentage of questions answered correctly.

If I were you, I would approach a bookstore or chain of bookstores for sponsorship to cover costs and for help to find a publisher to supply books.

I would suggest you ask a newspaper journalist to write the questions, as this would maybe help with getting publicity.

I suggest that competitors pay to enter the competition as this would help cover costs.’

Looking back over my speed-reading career, I really don’t think I would have developed the skill to the level I have, without competitions. I pushed myself beyond what I previously thought possible in order to win those gold medals.







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