How to increase your Reading speed.

By askdoc / May 16, 2008
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Note: This article was originally written and posted by me on prep4usmle.com. It talks about how to increase our ability to acquire knowledge. Part 1 is on How we learn which is posted here and Part 2 is this post on how to increase our reading speed . You can access the original post in prep4usmle here.

Now we go to speed reading.

The main reason that we read so slowly is the way reading was taught to us when we were younger. The two main reasons is:

  1. We tend to read word for word.
  2. We tend to subvocalize when we read.

Why we read word for word has to do with how we were first taught to read. We first learned our ABC’s. Then we learn to put together letters to form words. The we know group of words form phrases, group of phrases, sentences and group of sentences, paragraphs. Most relatively good readers tend to read in phrases than words, however, skilled speed readers can read in sentences, in paragraphs or even in pages. I know one guy who can read at the speed of 1 page per second. At my fastest I can read 3 lines in one glance depending on the difficulty level of reading.

Generally, there is no reason why we should be reading word for word. When our minds processes images in our visual cortex, we can recall random object scattered in our field of vision because that is how we have trained our brain to process that information. We can also train our brain to process the written word that way. By just expanding our reading from reading words to phrases or phrases to sentences, we can practically increase reading speeds up to 100% faster. There are exercises to accomplish this and I will tackle this later.

We also tend to subvocalize what we read because our teachers taught us to read aloud since this is the only way they can judge whether we have learned to read or not. This has become a habit for so many people that is hard to correct. Subvocalization means reading like you were talking to yourself. Studies have shown that people actually use their vocal cords when they subvocalize even if no sounds are produced. Others even form the words with their mouth as they read.

Subvocalization slows down our reading so much simply because it involves so much of our brain. If we trace the neural pathways, we start with the eye going to the visual center in the occipital area through the visual association areas that govern reading, then to Wernicke’s area which mediates symbolic language. Then this travels to Broca’s area via the arcuate fasciculus, to the motor area, then to the vocal cords and facial muscles, then back to the somatosensensory areas, then the somatosensory association areas then going back to Wernicke’s area, before it is sent to the hippocampal area for storage. By not subvocalizing we could start reading at the speed of thought. Now wouldn’t that be great.

For those who find themselves reading word for word, the best way to improve reading speed is to start reading by phrases. This will also reduce subvocalization.

For those already reading in phrases, expanding to read in sentences is a bit harder. A system taught in speed reading class is to use your index finger to lead your eye across the words. Move your finger at a speed faster than you are comfortable with, after reading a section or a group of paragraph try to write down what you recall of that paragraph and reread the same page at a slower pace to compare how much you’ve recalled. Initially your comprehension rate will be low as your brain is not used to processing information that way, but as time progresses it will become easier and your comprehension and retention will increase but at 2 to 3 times the speed.

One major limitation of speed reading is the requirement that you be able to think in the language you are speed-reading in, in our case English. The reason is if you have to translate English to your native language everytime you read, this will slow you down considerably. You can be translating this in your head and this limits the speed you can actually achieve.

Improving reading speed helps both in the KA phase and TP phase. By reading faster, we can increase the amount of material we can cover in the same amount of time. Of course in the TP phase, faster reading must be coupled with faster recall and I’ve discuss a way of doing that previously.

To end this discussion, I would like to quote my English Professor, Professor Concepcion Dadufalza, ” If there is only one thing you take with you when you leave this University, that is, Learn How to Learn, I will consider it our biggest success in educating you.”

Our next topic for discussion will involve, the use of books in reviewing. I will introduce a way of classifying books and how to use them. Of course, I will confine myself to books I have used, or those which I have bought but have decided not to use. That will be the last topic in KA, then we will proceed to KR.

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