Thursday, April 19, 2012

Academic Speed Reading (According to Cambridge University)

This article contains a series of suggestions for effective speed-reading without losing much in terms of reading comprehension. The context of these recommendations is the academic setting, where rapid processing and future retention of new information is the primary goal.

The first portion of this text discusses a possible parallel between reading speed and comprehension, noting that individuals higher in one tend to be higher in the other, as well. Factors that reduce reading rate include word-by-word reading, vocalization, faulty eye movements (jumping to the wrong line, etc), attempting to remember everything rather than only important things, and a number of other listed items. The article notes that merely speeding the rate of reading can compound these problems, lowering comprehension and removing the reader's confidence in their command of the material, further worsening the situation in a vicious cycle.

Next, the article discusses a few basic methods by which academic readers can begin to address the above problems and increase their rate of reading. The first of these recommendations is physical - having your eyes checked and any vision defects properly corrected. Second, eliminating vocalization during reading. Even silent vocalization, where the reader sounds out words without opening their mouth or muttering in a whisper force the brain to slow down and maintain only the pace at which the tongue and lips can work, which is much lower than the rate at which the mind processes information. Third, readers should avoid regressing (rereading) - new ideas are usually explained in further detail further down the page anyway. Typical readers regress several times per page, habitually, and this slows average words-per-minute drastically. Finally, and perhaps most vitally, the article recommends developing a "wider eye-span", such that a reader is reading more than one word at a time. The brain can then interpret phrases or whole thoughts as single units instead of chaining together words one by one.

Finally, the article gives a few simple rules for dynamic reading speed adjustments. In general, readers are instructed to slow down when encountering unfamiliar terms in unclear contexts, unusual or difficult sentence/paragraph structure, abstract concepts, highly detailed technical material, or material for which detailed retention is desired. Conversely, readers should speed up when engaging simple material with few new ideas, excessive examples or illustrations, detailed elaboration about which the reader does not particularly care to know, and broad or generalized ideas and summaries.

The article indicates that speed reading is vital and useful for academic reading. This is interesting in light of the fact that much of the existing research on speed-reading appears to be hostile or oriented around debunking ideas of its effectiveness.

Academic speed reading. University Students' Union, University of Cambridge. Available at

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