Monday, September 28, 2015

Speed Reading (4 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 in September 2015 regarding Speed Reading as an Analytic Technique specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Speed reading is a modifier that allows one to read a book, journal article, novel or magazine at a faster rate, but, possibly, at the cost of reading comprehension. Likewise, the modifier needs to be practiced and used on a consistent basis in order to maintain the benefits of the technique, otherwise the skill deteriorates. While the skill is useful, more investigation needs to be done into which techniques and training that improve speed and comprehension, particularly if the success of these techniques vary between individuals. Along the same lines, more research is needed to specify which techniques are most beneficial to intelligence analysts.

  • With consistent practice, speed reading has the potential to increase efficiency.
  • Increased reading speed increases the amount of material an analyst can get through thereby increasing their overall efficiency.
  • Enables people to rapidly read through large amounts of material.
  • Training and practice allows analysts to comprehend as much or more information relative to average readers.

  • Requires training and consistent practice to read faster while comprehending more information.
  • Eliminates emotion from reading.
  • Prevents checking previously stated information via regression.
  • Potential to miss details and decrease comprehension without experience.
  • All techniques may not be applicable to all readers
  • Results may vary between mediums (computers and books).

While there are many different methods of speed reading, the class was exposed to the ones listed below:
  1. A popular method is to use a finger, pen, or computer mouse to follow along the words, thus forcing the individual to speed up to their pointer.
  2. Read paragraphs in chunks, identifying key words and phrases and thus identifying the gist of the paragraph.
  3. Remove subvocalization. Instead of reading along to the voice in one’s head, read to the pace of one’s finger or pen.
  4. Eliminate re-reading words, phrases, & sentences.
  5. Use your peripheral vision. Pretend there is a vertical line in the middle of the text and focus on that line while using one’s peripheral vision to see and comprehend the words on either side of the line.

Personal Application of Technique:
In order to apply this technique, the class was split into two groups and there were two rounds of testing. In round one, one group was exposed to a training video about speed reading techniques and one of the groups was not. Then, each person read a passage to test their words per minute (WPM) and took a comprehension test. With that data, efficient words per minute (EWPM) was calculated and the results of the two groups were compared.  

Testing and Practical Exercises
Using the links below, the analysts speed reading performance was measured. This tested both words per minute and reading comprehension. These results produced the effective words per minute (EWPM) scores. Once scores were calculated on the excel spreadsheet, the group was able to discuss the results.

After a discussion of the results, round two was conducted. In this round, every person in both groups was exposed to speed reading techniques. One technique at a time was exposed to the subjects and they were to apply that technique to a passage and answer three questions about it. After that, the data gathered was used to again calculate EWPM and the results were compared with those of round one.

For additional information:
We used the excel spreadsheet to visualize the results in order to show the effects of two-minute training video.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Don’t Believe What You Read (Only Once): Comprehension Is Supported by Regressions During Reading

Elizabeth R. Schotter, Randy Tran, and Keith Rayner, 2014

The authors assert that while recent web applications have spurred excitement around the prospect of achieving speed-reading by eliminating eye movements with rapid serial visual presentation, or RSVP, in which words are presented briefly one at a time and sequentially, regressions (re-readings of words) are a natural part of the reading process. Besides, they claim that the inability to regress affects comprehension negatively and it is not confined to ambiguous sentences.They believe it can be effective only when text is extremely easy or short. 

In the study, they demonstrate this point with a very simple manipulation: Contributors of the experiment read sentences both normally and in a condition in which words became masked after they moved their eyes away (i.e., with what they refer to as a trailing mask). This experimental manipulation prohibits readers from accessing further information from the words after initially reading them, as in the RSVP method. Comparing comprehension of the sentences between normal reading and reading with the trailing mask allows them to assess how this lack of control over the sequence of the reading process affects comprehension.

The results of their experiment demonstrate that readers’ control over their eye movements is important for their comprehension. Conditions in which readers cannot go back to reread words (i.e., in the trailing-mask paradigm and in the RSVP method generally) lead to poorer understanding of the text. The fact that this finding did not differ between ambiguous and unambiguous sentences suggests that this is a global effect, not confined to generally difficult language.

Fig.  Results are shown separately for ambiguous sentences (left) and unambiguous sentences (right). The number of observations contributing to each data point is presented in parentheses below the x-axis. Error bars represent ±1 SEM. The dotted line represents chance performance (.5). 

Their data call into question how successful apps like Spritz will be in allowing users to read and, crucially, understand text via RSVP presentation. Although RSVP might be fine for reading short, simple sentences in which readers would not typically make regressions, given that readers normally make regressions 10% to 15% of the time, removing this ability will have drastic negative consequences for the understanding of sentences. Although there are several comments suggesting that people generally think of regressions as a “problem” that needs to be “gotten rid of.” In contrast, this study suggest that, regressions add a small amount of time to the reading process but the benefits they provide for understanding far outweigh the costs.

Schotter, E. R., Tran, R., & Rayner, K. (2014). Don’t Believe What You Read (Only Once) Comprehension Is Supported by Regressions During Reading.Psychological science, 0956797614531148.

Reading Speed and Memory for Prose

Dee-Lucas, Diana (1979)

Through this study, the author investigated the effects of reading rates on the retention of the information being read. Using two groups of twenty undergraduate students, a fast group and a slow group, Dee-Lucas developed an experiment where the subjects read three passages of approximately 415 words on the topics of Hinduism, typhus, and the history of Alaska. After reading the passages, the students were asked a set of eight questions, four fill-in the blank questions and 4 short essay questions. The questions tested a range of knowledge from verbatim recall to memory of more general ideas. Students in the fast group were paid a varying rate based on how quickly they read the passage (under 60 seconds, 60-90 seconds, 90-120 seconds, etc., up to 180 seconds) and how many questions they answered correctly. Students in the slow group were paid a flat rate based on how many questions they answered correctly with minor incentives for reading faster (under 200 seconds or under 180 seconds).

The author developed scores to test the type of information remembered, where each proposition, or item of recall, was assigned a “recallability score” based on the number of slow readers who recalled that proposition, and a “susceptibility to loss” score, which was the proportion of recall loss suffered by each proposition when students read faster. The propositions were broken down into case propositions (those that show relations between objects and maintain continuity of the passage), descriptive propositions (which express details and attributive relations), and those which express relations of other types. The author also tested recall accuracy, assigned as “identical,” “gist,” or “incorrect.”

The payoff structure was effective; the mean reading time for the fast group was 99.3 seconds and 207.8 seconds for the slow group. Retention, however, suffered with speed, as mean recall was 30.3 out of 129 propositions for the fast group and 47.3 out of 129 propositions for the slow group. The case propositions, which state the action of the passage, made up a majority of the recalled propositions in the fast group, while attributive propositions, which expressed descriptive information, made up most of the set of poorly recalled propositions. In terms of accuracy, there were no significant differences between the fast and slow groups. Therefore, while the fast group retained less information overall, the information they did retain was as accurate as the information retained by the slow group. However, fast readers may have missed implicit causal relationships that were picked up by the slow readers.

This article basically states that when individuals increase their reading speed, they risk losing some of the information in the passage; however, the information lost is primarily descriptive information as opposed to continuity information. This could potentially be detrimental to intelligence analysts where the details are frequently just as important as the overall narrative of a piece of literature. Additionally, the faster readers missed implicit causal relationships; while some information will be explicitly expressed, many of the answers that we as intelligence analysts seek require a deeper examination into the message that is left unsaid or the intentions behind an action. Finally, a flaw in this study is the lack of an assessment of the difficulty of information being read and recalled. The fact that the slow group only recalled 47.3 out of 129 propositions (37%) suggests that the information may have been above the subjects’ level of comprehension, resulting in difficulty recalling the information.

Dee-Lucas, D. (1979). Reading speed and memory for prose. Journal of Reading Behavior, 11(3), 221-233. Retrieved from: 

The Effect of a Timed Reading Activity on EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Learners: Speed, comprehension, and Perceptions

Foreign or second language students read much slower in the language they are learning than in their native language. Various studies imply that students read slower because they lack automaticity of word recognition, which divides their attention between word meaning and content comprehension. To successfully master a second language, one must be able to apply the knowledge in an appropriately fluent manner. The author’s state primary language development has received much attention over the decade, but research is lacking in the secondary language development field. Thus, the authors explore the effect of a timed reading activity in EFL students in terms of speed, comprehension, and perception, and investigate three hypothesis:

1.       Did students who received a timed reading intervention read faster than those who did not? If   yes, by how many words per minute did they increase?
2.       Did students who received a timed reading intervention comprehend better than those who did not? If yes, by how much did they improve?
3.       How did students who received the timed reading treatment perceive the intervention?

The participants in the study included 84 college students from two classes, 46 students in the first class and 38 students in the second class. The first class served as the experimental group while the second class served as the control group. The experiment class spent 15 minutes of their session on timed reading while the control group reviewed content taught the previous week. The research class met for one two-hour sessions per week, for a total of 26 hours over 13 weeks. Reading for Speed and Fluency by Nation and Malarcher (2007) was the book used for the study. To assess the effect of the study, a reading speed test was administered to both groups before and after the program.

H1: Before the research study began, the average reading speed for both were comparable. The experimental group read at 118 (words per minute) WPM, and the control group read at 124 WPM. When the second test was administered, the experimental group read at 147 WPM, and the control group read at 131 WPM. Thus, the experimental group’s reading speed increased by 25% while the control groups reading speed increased by 7%.
H2: The group with speed reading intervention gained only marginally in their comprehension score compared to the control group. No Significant difference between groups was found.
H3: The authors reported the majority of the students significantly benefited from the research class, while a small minority mentioned the texts used were too easy for them. 

The authors compared the results of their study with the results from Cushing-Weigle and Jensen’s (1996) study conducted in 1994, and found that both experiments yielded similar results. Despite many different elements between the two studies (e.g. learning context, second and foreign environment, reading materials and academic versus general), the results of the current study indicate that including a timed reading activity approximately 15 minutes a week within a normal curriculum can improve a student’s reading speed and confidence. 

The authors also compared their study with studies conducted by Cramer (1975), and Chung and Nation (2006), and noted the students in their study made smaller improvements. The author’s gave two main reasons for the different outcomes.

R1: Students only received speed reading tests once a week for 15 minutes. Previous literature shows that time distribution does affect learning effectiveness.
R2: The students compromising each group had variable reading skills, and some of the students were not able to complete the tests on time which lowered their scores. 

The biggest takeaway from this article is that the speed reading study was done on ESL students. Results from hypothesis 1 indicate spending about 15 minutes a week on a speed reading exercise will increase the subject’s ability to read words faster. This implies the methodology will likely have greater effects on students with English as their first language.