SPEED READING: Some people claim that more than a thousand words per minute can be read. But do they really comprehend all that?

Let us take a deeper look at the concept of speed reading.

I have 500 unread articles in my Instapaper account, as per the badge icon on my computer. I still have 15 un-downloaded novels waiting for me on the servers of Amazon, 180 unopened texts, and suffer from what the Japanese call tsundoku .

I’m drowning in thoughts, like a lot of people. It is no surprise then that speed reading is an increasingly common recourse for both the GTD crowd and anybody is highly efficient.  This involves reading at an accelerated speed with no lack of understanding. Who wouldn’t want to breeze at 2,500 + words per minute through their reading list and devour Johnny Five feedback levels?

Some include, when reading, suppressing the inner expression.

Others teach you to “chunk,” or take in a quick glimpse at several lines of text. Others also remove the need for your eyes to switch at all.

Sadly, they appear to only affirm one thing: doing tasks faster requires doing them less correctly. Are you going to learn to read quicker? Completely. Absolutely! But you’re not going to understand what you read almost as well ..Ok, if at all.


The Short and the Baseless

With good understanding, most educated individuals can read at around the same pace as an auctioneer talks. This is between 250 and 400 words per minute. The rate of a typical conversation between two persons, ranges between 150 and 160 words per minute.  This is also the recommended rate for podcasts and audiobooks. That makes an incredibly complex process of normal reading.

Elizabeth Schotter is a UC San Diego cognitive psychologist.

Schotter and her co-authors describe the mental and visual mechanisms involved in reading. This ranges from the signals the eye draws in to the emotional thinking that takes place in the context. It’s a dynamic dance between a variety of visual and mental systems, one that is strongly language-dependent.

Unlike speech, the process of reading and writing are abnormal in a cognitive sense. This was stated by evolutionary psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker. Parents should not have to train a child to write, it is just a human ability. On the other hand, writing doesn’t come easily. Why does it matter? Both reading and writing piggyback on language and speech, rather than being a strictly visual operation. 

This has important ramifications for how people interpret and comprehend writing. Moreover, the implications that are overlooked or skewed by nearly all speed-reading strategies.


In the world of speed reading, take one of the more popular bad guys: subvocalization. In their hearts, this is the inner voice readers hear when they listen quietly.

Sub-vocalization is essentially a disposable holdover for advocates of speed reading from before humans began to read aloud. Suppressing it, the idea goes, would decrease the drag this internal voice has on the internal reading rate of a person.

Thereby, speed reading may minimize the level of understanding we receive from the book’s contents. However, there are a lot of people who prefer speed reading. Ultimately, it is all based on your personal preference.

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