The move to focusing on speed as a measure of fluency began decades ago with DIBELS, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy tests. The idea was that if a child reads too slowly, spending too much time sounding out a word rather than recognizing it and reading fluently, they lose comprehension.
Unfortunately, over time, this turned into a focus on speed instead of comprehension. Students were encouraged to read quickly, whether they understood the words or not. As busy post-doc adults, we know that it’s essential to be able to do both: read fast, and comprehend the text. Our schedules don’t allow for us to spend hours closely analyzing a text. We have minutes, not hours, and sometimes those minutes are hard to come by. The good news is you can get all the comprehension you need without sacrificing extra time when you learn how to speed read.
Why Speed Reading is a Thing
The average adult reads between 200 and 300 words per minute (WPM). That sounds like a lot, but your brain is capable of much more. Speed reading allows you to read and comprehend closer to 1500 words per minute. Imagine your college textbooks and how much time this would have saved you had you been able to increase your studying speed up to five times your previous ability. You can see why speed reading skills are so coveted.
When you read, your eyes look at a word and fixate on it, which takes about .25 seconds. Then, the eyes move to the next word, and the next, in a process called a saccade. Each saccade takes .1 second, meaning you can absorb four to five words at once as a full phrase in a little less than one second. Multiplying 4-5 words times 60 seconds in a minute gives you your WPM. But if you could absorb more than five words in one phrase, you could increase your WPM.
Tips to Read (and Comprehend) Faster
So how do people get through massive manuscripts in short chunks of time? They speed read, of course. You can, too, with these five tips:
- Look for keywords. Scan the content of a section instead of every word in the sentence and paragraphs. When you see something that interests you or seems important, slow down and reread. The essential words in a sentence are the nouns and adjectives. Over time, your brain will start to recognize those words and ignore others (for instance, the, and, but, to).
- Jump around. You really don’t need to read all of the text in a manuscript in order. It’s not a novel, where the plot builds on previous events. Go to a paragraph, read the first and last sentences, and you have the gist of the entire paragraph. If the first sentence tells you you’re going to be reading about something you’re not interested in or you already know, you can skip that paragraph.
- Apply it to something familiar. When your brain recognizes something as familiar (for instance, a scent from your childhood), it stores it in a more concrete fashion. If you’ve never heard of something before, it takes multiple applications to remember it. If you can apply something new you read to something you already know, like a personal memory, you’ll comprehend and remember it better.
- Keep a notebook as you read. Most of us will remember information better if we write it down. It can’t hurt to find those keywords and phrases in a paragraph and jot them down in a notebook. It only takes a few extra seconds, and you’ve more than gained that time with your other speed reading techniques.
- Practice. The more you practice speed reading, the faster your brain will grab on to the techniques you’re trying to employ. The best time to do this is a few hours before bed because, for a while, your brain is going to be working extra hard accumulating new information and new techniques. Let it rest after your practice rounds, and you’ll be speed reading like a pro in no time.
Improving Your Professional Portfolio With Impactio
Speed reading is one way to enhance your professional skills. Another impressive way to improve your reputation is to join Impactio, America’s largest scientific networking platform. Create a portfolio on Impactio, include your talents, skills, and recognitions, and link to your publications. It’s an easy way for others to “speed-read” through your curriculum vitae and add you to their network of experts in your field.