Bell (2001) examined the correlation between reading speed and reading comprehension in both intensive and extensive environments of children. Subjects in the extensive environments were given longer texts. Those in the intensive environments received about 30 short passages, usually no longer than 300 words. Bell expected those in the extensive program to adapt speed-reading in order to meet the time demands. Those is in the groups were then given comprehension tests on their respective passages. A correlation analysis was then performed on the reading comprehension results and reading speed.
Subjects in the extensive environment did adapt higher reading speeds to meet time demands. More importantly, the extensive environment scored higher on reading comprehension tests than those in the intensive environment. Bell concludes that extensive readings improve reading speed and comprehension than “intensive language exploitation activities.” Furthermore, the more extensive readings a student does, the more his/her reading speed and comprehension increase.
There are few items worth noting concerning the findings of this study. First, it was focused on elementary learners. Therefore, reading longer texts may not have the same improvements on adults – although that is certainly desirable, especially in the intelligence community. Second, it is near impossible to make comprehension tests for different texts at the same level of difficulty. While the tests may have been valid for each text, they may not be valid when considered as a whole in the context of this study.
Now, the findings of this study have interesting implications for intelligence summaries (INTSUMs) and short-form analytic reports (SFARs). INTSUMs may actually be harmful to decision makers if these findings are applicable to adults and their reading comprehension. Admittedly, SFARs would not be as harmful as they contain more content, but these findings suggest that long-form analytic reports (LFARs, usually 2 or more pages) are the most preferable tools to spread information and understanding of a current issue.
Future studies on reading speed and comprehension are required in order to support such assertions. The current study, while interesting, is not enough.
Bell, T. (2001, April). Extensive reading: Speed and comprehension. Retrieved October 31, 2014, from http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/bell/