The Penn State Mark
Rapid Reading

Checklist of Symptoms

Do you often:

  1. "hear every word clearly in your head, even when you read silently?
  2. read everything in the same way, at the same speed (i.e., slowly and carefully) whether you need to or not?
  3. read an article or story so slowly that by the time you reach the end, you can't remember the beginning?
  4. avoid courses in literature or any subject that requires much outside reading?
  5. own several good books you have "never had time to finish" (the ones with the bookmarks stuck in them)?

If you checked one or more of these symptoms, you need to learn to read more rapidly. But you are also apparently the typical compulsive reader. You read everything slowly, correctly, "orally", just as you did in grade school. The problem is, nowadays you're supposed to be reading silently, not orally. Also, as an adult your reading tasks vary tremendously, both in what you are reading and why you are reading it. So it is inappropriate for you to use only one reading style and rate.

So why do most of us tend to read light materials so slowly?

Adapted from Phillips & Sotirion, Steps to Reading Proficiency.

How to Read More Rapidly

For best results, don't try to start right in by forcing yourself to read too fast, especially if you have been a habitually slow reader. Instead, as you become better at reading easy materials rapidly, you will find that Tips 1, 2, and 3 will become part of your new reading habits. Then you can concentrate on increasing your rate with no loss of basic comprehension.

Approach rapid reading with a relaxed, confident mind-set by practicing with leisure reading. First, remind yourself that no one is going to test you on your leisure reading! Second, leave the slow rates (100-300 wpm) to talking or reading aloud. Your eyes can see all the words on a page at speeds up to 800 wpm, and your brain can operate at thousands of words per minute. So, feed yourself printed words at a more challenging pace-- 400-800 wpm.

Trust your sense of closure. All adult readers know enough about English words, sentence patterns, and common logic to understand most of the contents of a page even if they do not clearly see every word. ("Function words"--those not essential to literal comprehension--may easily be omitted. "Key words," however, are important to comprehension." Depending on how concise a writer's style is, we can omit 10-50 percent of the words in ordinary prose without losing any basic literal comprehension.

Use your eyes efficiently. A slow reader tends to (focus) on every single word across the line. Yet the average eye span on the printed page is about 11/2 inches in diameter.

    1. Use soft focus as you read. Don't peer tensely at words. Relax your eye muscles and face muscles. Let your peripheral vision do more of the work. Look slightly above the line of print, and let your eyes "float" down the page. Try to read the lines, not each letter or word.
    2. Use shortened margins. That is, don't fixate on the first or last word on each line. Rather, fixate about a half-inch in from each margin, letting your peripheral vision pick up the words to the side. Like the soft-focus technique, this one take time and practice.

Reminder: Ninety-nine percent of all reading takes place in the brain, not in the eyes. As you concentrate on the ideas on a page rather than on each word, and as you increase your rate in easy materials, your brain will become more alert and active, and you can forget what your eyes are doing.

Use all the Essential Reading Skills. This means that you must first preview your material for the main ideas and overall structure. Since previewing helps with basic comprehension, it is an absolute necessity in rapid reading. You will never increase your speed if you do not begin with a "map of the territory." Besides previewing, remember that other essential skills. You will need to pay attention to important transitions and other signals, and notice organizational patterns--all keys to the "writer's path." Even when we read rapidly, our goal is to grasp the writer's message as accurately as possible.

Use time pressure. This is an outgrowth of Tip 1. "Be confident that your brain can handle print faster than you can talk or read aloud. To rapid read, you should be physically relaxed but mentally active! Most people find that some tension, some pressure, helps them concentrate on their reading. In fact, skilled rapid readers are not passive comfortable. In rapid reading as in scanning, you must be conscious of time passing. So time yourself, or have someone else time you, or work up a little competition with class members.

Use a crutch, until you can read rapidly without one. If you try the first five tips and still continue to read easy materials at a grade-school rate, the following may help you concentrate and speed up:

    1. Use your finger as a pacing device. You can move the finger rapidly from left to right under each line. This technique is effective if you intend to read every line, but it will hold you back if you wish to skip.
    2. Use an index card as your own portable shutter. Like commercial gadgets, the card prevents you from regressing to previous lines of print. Also, because you use your arm and hand to move the card down the page, you are physically more focused on the reading. Unlike other gadgets, an index card is cheap, is easy to carry with you, and can double as a bookmark! Do not forget to use soft focus and shortened margins as you read.

A good slogan to keep in mind: "Read the ideas on the page, not the words."

Adapted from Phillips & Sotirion, Steps to Reading Proficiency.


This page last updated: July 10, 2000 7:10 PM
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