This post is motivated by two articles published in “Psychological Science in the Public Interest.” One article is titled “So Much to Read, So Little Time: How Much Do We Read, and Can Speed Reading Help?” by Rayner, K., Schotter, E.R., Masson, M.E.J., Potter, M.C., & Treiman, R. (Vol17, 4-34, 2016). The other article is “Speed Reading: You Can’t Always Get What You Want, but Can You Sometimes Get What You Need?” by Balota, D.A. (Vol 17, 1-3, 2016). In additional to speed reading courses, we now have Apps that can be used to increase reading speed.
I’m always amused by the reading speeds that are advertised for these courses and apps. Reading speeds critically depend on the material being read, and on the objectives of the person doing the reading. I can easily find material that I cannot understand no matter how many times I read it irrespective of my reading speed. I always recall what a friend of mine said regarding speed reading. He said that if the material is technical or needs to be read carefully, reading speed is irrelevant. And if he is reading for pleasure, reading fast detracts from his enjoyment of the material being read.
I adjust my reading speed depending on both my reasons for reading and on the material being read. If the content turns out to be of little interest or poorly written, I either terminate reading or increase my reading speed. If the content is of interest and important, I’m likely to reread the material and perhaps even decrease my reading speed, Metacognition is important here. I’ll ask myself questions and if I either do not know or am not confident in my understanding, I’ll reread the content until I can satisfy myself that I have understood what I read.
It is good to consider the immediately preceding blog posts on the elements of effective thinking. Remember the techniques: Understanding Deeply, Asking Questions, Seeing the Flow of Ideas. One of the elements is to make mistakes. This is for especially difficult material. We need to not be embarrassed that we cannot solve, or do not understand something, but to go ahead, make mistakes, chipping away at our misunderstandings until a satisfactory understanding.
I conclude that speed reading is the antithesis of these elements. True there are times when we need to skim read looking for information, but the goal here is to find information to which we’ll apply elements of effective thinking.
And if we are reading for pleasure, it is counterproductive to increase our reading speed if it decreases our pleasure.
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