Speed reading is the process of reading and understanding a text in a shorter time than it usually takes. There has been a lot of hype surrounding speed reading as a study technique, with some students claiming it saves them time without compromising comprehension. However, the topic of whether speed reading is effective is more complex than it seems.
In short, the answer to this question is "sometimes." The efficacy of the technique depends on what kind of content you're reading and the level of comprehension you need on a particular subject. If you are familiar with a subject, you can probably speed read without misunderstanding anything, but if you are new to a subject or need to understand it in detail, speed reading could hinder your understanding.
People naturally have different speeds when it comes to reading, but the average range is 200 to 300 words per minute. Reading speed also varies depending on the complexity of the subject. You might be able to read a gossip article in a minute or two but need five minutes to read an article of the same length on quantum physics. This is because, when you read, you don't just take time to look at each word but also to understand them as part of a broader phrase or sentence.
The concept of reading speed is pretty subjective because you can only measure your speed against your own improvements. There's no concrete way of categorizing reading speed into "good" or "bad." However, there are a number of biological processes that occur when we read and comprehend new material.
When we read, our eyes jump rapidly across lines of text, allowing us to see a lot at once. Between these lightning-fast jumps, our eyes take breaks lasting around 200-300 milliseconds to either rest or focus on a segment of text more clearly. The jumps are called "saccades" and the breaks are called "fixations."
The information absorbed by your eyes is then sent to the visual cortex in the brain, which is responsible for visual processing, including the perception of depth, form, color and motion. Other parts of the brain then kick in to help you understand what you're seeing.
First, the left frontal lobe of your brain engages to understand the meaning of letters and words before the anterior temporal lobe analyzes how the words flow together. Finally, the limbic system activates your emotional and cognitive processing, which supports information retention.
Because speed reading requires reducing the amount of time you spend reading a text, it could lead to not fully understanding the content of a piece. While it can be useful in some cases, reading too quickly probably isn't the wisest choice, so speed reading should be used with caution.
Besides speed reading, there are several tips and tricks that can help you improve your reading and comprehension skills:
Skim reading: Look for and focus on understanding the main idea of a text.
Use context: Read the words around the keywords and primary phrases to deduce the main idea of a sentence or paragraph.
Summarize: Writing a brief summary in your own words helps you process and remember the information you have just read.
Read aloud: Reading out loud forces you to slow down and think about what you are reading and is very useful if you're an audio learner.
Take breaks: Studying can be exhausting, so pace yourself and schedule regular breaks away from the books.
MedCerts programs use virtual and immersive educational content to help enhance your comprehension of complex topics. All our students get access to instructor-led videos, game-based learning, and 3D animated demonstrations that present information in a more engaging way than text-based materials alone. Take our quiz here to find out if our online career training is right for you.
Julie Campos is the Senior Director of Operations and Student Success at MedCerts. She brings over 14 years of experience in Online Higher Education in both Student Support and Enrollment and started her career at the University of Phoenix, serving most of her tenure as a student-facing leader.
Julie has her Bachelors of Liberal Arts in Political Science from the University of Texas at El Paso, and her Masters in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. Her areas of expertise are student support in online higher education environments and working with nontraditional students. At MedCerts, she is focused on creating a pro-active student central support model for MedCerts students to reach their goals and has developed the MedCerts Student Support and Outreach Model, created MedCerts Student Success Advisor reports and Dashboards, as well as the Student Success Advisor Playbook. Her proactive approach to student support has been crucial in meeting MedCerts’ student’s needs, as well as completion and certification goals.
Julie has three children – a 10-year-old son and 12- and 4-year-old daughters, who keep her and her husband busy with sports. She is also an avid crafter with an entire room of her home dedicated to the hobby. In her free time, she enjoys teaching wreath making and even has a few “how-to” YouTube videos on the subject!