Thursday, April 26, 2012

Summary of Findings (White Team): Speed Reading (3 out of 5 stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University on 26 April 2012 regarding Speed Reading specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility, its ability to effectively use unstructured data, and its ease of communication to a decision maker.

Speed reading encompasses a variety of techniques and behavior modifications used to increase an individual’s rate of processing textual information, ideally while simultaneously increasing reading comprehension. Variants of speed reading techniques include: skimming, chunking, and avoiding subvocalization. Some studies on the effects of speed reading are inconclusive or contradict previous findings, which may be the reason for lower adoption rates. Many researchers recommend speed reading for learning the main ideas of a text, but this technique lowers comprehension as speeds increase. People using this technique should identify when it is necessary to retain details and when it is sufficient to pick up the main points. 

    • If properly applied, can enhance productivity for people in many fields.
    • Useful for understanding structure and main ideas.
    • Extensive time-savings over the wide span of usage.
    • Reduces ‘inner voice’ narrative whilst reading.
    • Many free online resources for developing speed reading skills.


    • Not as useful for picking up details from texts
    • Research on the benefits of speed reading generally finds increased speeds, but some studies suggest that reading comprehension diminishes as speed increases.
    • Tends to lower reading comprehension at higher reading speeds.
    • Involves breaking old habits which may be difficult or impossible to overcome.
    • Techniques must be used continuously or they will atrophy.

      The driving principle behind speed reading is to push your limits and read at a speed faster than you are comfortable with. Conscious attempts to read faster have been shown by some researchers to help increase reading capabilities over time. With all speed reading techniques, it is important to benchmark and track reading speed as you practice these techniques.

      According to some studies, the following speed reading techniques are generally considered to be some of the most effective:

      • Skim the text. First and last paragraphs, first and last sentences within paragraphs, new topics in the text, and other notable features should capture most of your reading focus.
      • “Chunk” text mentally. Read multiple words or whole phrases as single units, the way your mind eventually interprets them.
      • Avoid “backtracking.” Your brain will usually catch up or fill in gaps from later contextual information.
      • Avoid subvocalizing text as you read. Your brain can process words faster than your mouth, so subvocalizing only serves to limit reading speed.
      • Use an index card or other flat, blank surface to work your way down the page one line at a time, isolating your focus while blocking out extraneous distractions.
      • Become familiar with the type of literature you are reading. Journal articles, for instance, tend to follow a very similar structure in general, allowing more effective skimming.

      Personal Application of Technique:
      For the activity, the class accessed two sites - and

      At, participants performed a speed reading self-test. First, each person took a timed reading test of over a page of text, recording their words-per-minute (WPM) at the end. Next, each person took a comprehension test of 11 questions about the reading. Finally, users compared their WPM and comprehension scores to the chart on the site, to identify where they fell on the ranking of reading ability. For example, “average” readers would score around 200 WPM and 60% reading comprehension rate, while “good” readers would have 300/80% respectively. This score chart also divided the results up into Slow/Oral/Auditory/Visual reading styles, in order from least capable to most capable readers.

      At, participants experimented with a demo of speed reading software that flashes words by one at time to provide practice at a speed of 300 WPM.  Next, the same text was read again at a speed of 600 WPM.  Speed reading skills tend to deteriorate with disuse over time, so ongoing practice is vital to maintain speed reading capabilities.

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