Speed Reading

Speed reading by Tony Buzan - toolshero

This article explains speed reading, developed by Tony Buzan, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful personal development tool.

What is Speed Reading?

Reading (text) books takes quite some time. This is why it may not be such a bad idea to improve your reading skills in such a way that your reading speed is doubled or even quadrupled. According to the British psychologist Tony Buzan this is possible. He developed a method to increase reading speed and he became the inventor of speed reading.

He is also known for his mind mapping technique. It may seem an insurmountable task, but it is possible to read a book in half the time it normally takes to read while at the same the matter read is recorded even better.

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An average person reads at a speed of about 250 words per minute. Thoughts are quicker: about 1,000 words per minute. This means that the brains are not used in the best possible way as a result of which people are easily distracted.

This in turn, makes it more difficult to understand or process the information that people have read. Speed reading reduces the chance of people being distracted and therefore they understand the texts they read much better. This insight forms the basis of being able to (learn how) to read more quickly.

Furthermore, it is important to practise this reading skill to a large extent as a result of which the reading speed increases automatically and people retain what they read much better It is possible to achieve a reading speed of 3,580 words per minute just by practising! According to Tony Buzan: “Reading is to the mind as aerobics training is to the body”.

Background of speed reading

Even though Tony Buzan popularised speed reading, he is not the inventor of it. Evelyn Wood is said to have come up with the term. Wood was a teacher and became curious about the fact that some people can naturally read faster than others. This is why she started to train herself in reading texts very quickly. She discovered that as she turned each page that she had read with her hand, her eyes would focus on this movement. After that, she routinely used her hand as a tracker and pacer. But more on this later.

Wood first told her students about this method during her time at the University of Utah. Soon after, the method was introduced to the general public in 1959.

Mind mapping

The combination of this reading skill and mind mapping has proved to be valuable tools. But what exactly is mind mapping?

It is a technique that uses key words and images so that our brains can retain information more easily. Instead of making a lot of notes, only one or two sheets with mind maps will suffice.

Reading with the brains

At school we are taught to read out loud at first. Then we are taught to say the words in our heads. This way of reading has the same pace as reading out loud.

However, our thinking speed is much faster than our talking speed. This is why we have to realize that we do not read with our eyes but with our brains. Our eyes just collect information and our brains make us understand this.

How to speed read?

Below, you will find a short step-by-step guide to help you learn to read faster. Follow the steps and make sure you do each exercise properly.

Step 1: calculate your reading speed (speed-reading testing)

Before you can actively learn how to read faster, we first need to determine a baseline. This equals the amount of words per minute (WPM) you read at the start of the training.

Use a practice book for this. Count the amount of words in 5 random lines. Then divide this number by 5. The result will be the average number of words per line.

For example: 60 words / 5 lines = 12 words per line

Then count the number of lines on 5 pages of the book and divide the total number of lines by 5 to determine the average number of lines per page. This number then needs to be multiplied by the average amount of words per line. This will give you the average amount of words per page.

For example: 150 lines / 5 pages = 30 lines per page x 12 words per line = 360 words per page

Then make sure you mark the first line, set a timer and read for one minute. Multiply the number of lines with the average number of words per line to calculate the current number of read words per minute.

Step 2: Technique and speed (speed-reading techniques)

You can prevent having to re-read part of a text by using a tracker. Lots of people use a pen to keep track of the read sentences and words. Tracking reading speed is crucial in order to improve it.

Underline each line using the top part of a pen. Hold it down on each line for a maximum of 1 second and up the speed after each page. Read with the aim to understand, but never take longer than 1 second per line.

Then up your reading speed to max. 5 seconds per line. It is okay if you do not take any of it in. This is a speed exercise which trains and conditions your perceptual reflexes.

Step 3: perceptual expansion

Perceptual expansion is the most important step in the process of learning to read quicker. It is also the most difficult step. Therefore take plenty of time to practice.

When someone looks at the centre of a screen, that person can still see the sides as well. By training your peripheral vision, you can increase your reading speed by more than three hundred percent. Untrained readers, or people who have never trained their reading speed, only use half of their peripheral vision. The result is that they spend up to half of their time taking in blank lines and margins between lines.

Mastering and developing speed reading

It is important to consider the following three points when trying to master speed reading:

No distractions

A quiet environment reduces distracting external stimuli. Stay focused on the text.

Eye-hand coordination

Speed reading requires good eye-hand coordination. The eyes are like unguided missiles. This why they have to be guided by a director. Only the area in the field of vision is clear, the rest is blurry. Therefore, eyes have to move continuously to the places people want to see clearly. A sentence will therefore only have to be read once in order to be understood.

Practice

Practice makes perfect; this also goes for this reading skill. Tools may be helpful. By reading the text with the index or a pen, people are ‘forced’ to read the indicated part and they are not distracted by the rest of the text.

In addition, a metronome may help to execute the movement of the director from left to right at a steady pace.

Posture

Posture is also important when speed reading. Thoughts control actions of the body and vice versa. An alert body posture creates alert thoughts. Therefore, sit up straight with an active posture, and keep your feet flat on the floor. This will help you concentrate for a longer period of time.

Building up speed reading

Speed reading will have to be built up but it is advisable to immediately start reading a piece of text at a higher pace than usual. The ‘inner voice’ will be silenced and the brains will have an opportunity to understand what the text says. Then, the normal reading pace can be used again.

The more people practise, the longer the speed reading period becomes. The results depend on the frequency and length of the practice. By practising regularly, the results will improve dramatically.

The myths of speed reading

Some of the claims made about the actual speed of speed reading are not achievable. One example of this is that it is claimed that anyone can learn to read a book as quickly as flipping through a telephone book. This is impossible at an anatomical and neurological level.

To be able to read that quickly, the eye needs to stop on one part of the text. This is what we call fixation. The eye then has to move very quickly to the next fixation point. And the brain needs to gather this information for it to be able to understand what the eye has just read. The mechanical process of the movement of the human eye is limited to about five hundred words per minute

Also, the limits of the working memory of humans are just as important a limiting factor as the anatomical limit that speed reading is subjected to. The brain can process about 3 to 5 chunks of information at a time. Therefore, having a limited working memory makes it impossible to read multiple lines at once.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is Speed Reading applicable in today’s modern economy? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for reading and understanding texts?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Buzan, T. (2006). The speed reading book. Pearson Education.
  2. Buzan, T. & Keene, R. (1994). Buzan’s Book of Genius: And how to unleash your own. Vintage.
  3. Buzan, T. (1986). Use your memory. BBC Publications.

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