In this study, the authors investigate the impact that a course in speed reading might have on three areas of reading proficiency: 1) general reading comprehension, 2) knowledge of high-frequency vocabulary, and 3) reading-rate development. The subjects were Japanese high school students in 10th grade that enrolled in a six-month course studying English as a foreign language. The school itself was ranked as slightly below average in terms of its standardized rank score.
The study sought to answer four main questions:
1. Do students who receive speed reading instruction improve their general reading comprehension more than students who do not receive such instruction?
2. Do students who receive speed reading instruction improve their knowledge of high-frequency vocabulary more than students who receive only vocabulary instruction?
3. Do students who receive speed reading instruction improve their reading rate while maintaining accuracy in comprehension?
4. Is there a correlation between general reading comprehension and reading speed?
Of the 105 participants, 51 were randomly assigned to the experimental group and 54 remained in the control group. Pre- and post-course general reading comprehension test items assessed reading ability in a number of areas.
For the purpose of the study, speed reading was defined as follows: reading as quickly as possible while maintaining a high level of comprehension. Once students had read the passage carefully and recorded their reading speed, they were not permitted to refer back to the text while answering the comprehension questions. Comprehension dealt with the understanding of main ideas and details, and was measured by five multiple-choice response questions which focused broadly on main ideas, details, and the understanding of vocabulary from context. At least four out of the five questions needed to be answered correctly in order to be considered high level.
Over the course of the study the experimental group completed one speed reading exercise in each class, which was conducted in the first ten minutes. For the control group, in place of speed reading, participants received twice-weekly activities that practiced high-frequency vocabulary. The amount of time spent on these exercises was identical to the time spent on speed reading in the experimental group. All other aspects of the courses were identical.
At the end of the study, the answers to the research questions were as follows:
1) While both groups made statistically significant improvements in general reading ability, there was no statistically significant difference between the post-test means of the experimental group and control group.
2) Similarly, while both groups made statistically significant improvements in high-frequency vocabulary, there was no statistically significant difference between the post-test means of the experimental group and control group
3) Although students in the experimental group did improve their reading speed by a statistically significant amount, the study indicated that students’ comprehension remained constant between the start of the course and the end of the course.
4) Finally, while general reading comprehension and reading speed were correlated, the relationship was a small. This means that students scoring highly on the general reading comprehension test were not always able to demonstrate faster reading.