Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speed Reading

We are living in the age of information overload. Most of us have to constantly read or process a lot of information just to keep up with the fast pace of our business or school. We need to read fast, and a lot faster. But reading fast requires a skill. There are many different techniques for speed reading. What follows is introduction to one of speed reading techniques.

Why we can't read fast

There are 3 major reasons that hinder speed reading:

  • Habitual regression
    A casual reader occasionally stops reading when he or she encounters an unknown or ambiguous word. This dramatically slows reading while reducing the efficiency of the short-term memory used for reading. Remember, the context is more important than the precise meaning. An efficient reader should quickly read through the material and look up words only before or after the reading.
  • Polysyllabic fixation
    English, like most Indo-European languages, is a polysyllabic language. That means most English words are made up of two or more syllables, for example, hospital, hippopotamus, etc. Most adult readers can recognize thousands of polysyllabic words instantly when they see the words because they recognize their shape, length, syllables and prior learning. However, poor readers tend to read words by each syllable, thus resulting in slow reading. On the other hand, speed readers pass over the words very quickly, taking in all the rest of the stuff with brain-eye coordination and memory.
  • Subvocalization
    Subvocalization often occurs simultaneously with polysyllabic fixation. Most readers speak while reading, either in their mouth, in their throat, or in their mind. This is a bad habit for people who need to read a lot of material.

Organization Patterns: Parts-to-Whole vs Whole-to-Parts

Efficient readers can apply different reading skills to different materials, be it fiction, non-fiction, magazine or newspaper. Most reading materials can be put into two categories: fiction and non-fiction. They have two different organizational patterns, for example, parts-to-whole or whole-to-parts.

Fictional works have the parts-to-whole pattern. When you read something fictional, you don't know until the very end of the story what it is all about. When you read a fiction, you need to understand the parts and put the parts together so as to understand the whole.

Nonfictional materials like textbooks have the whole-to-parts pattern. A typical textbook begins with an introduction of what you're going to read or learn, then the actual contents divided into sections, and finishes with a summary or conclusion. Thus, the organization of informational books leads you from the whole to the parts. You get the big picture and then its components.

Preview before Reading

A good reader should preview a reading material and select an appropriate reading strategy according to the organizational pattern of the material. It is always important to preview the reading material before you actually read it. Some quick preview methods are as follows:

  • skim the first and last few pages
  • skim the first 5 pages, several places in the middle and the last 5 pages
  • skim the entire work
  • skim the beginning of each chapter or each subsection

Speed Reading Procedure

The following steps are recommended for improved comprehension, speed and retention:

  1. Survey
    Reader looks at covers and title, reads the preface and introductions, checks out if there is a glossary, definitions, pictures, etc.
  2. Preview
    Reader pays special attention to chapter titles and section titles, reads the introductions and conclusions of chapters, time permitting the first sentence of every paragraph.
  3. Comprehensive Reading
    Select the appropriate reading strategy — what can be skipped, read more carefully, etc. Mark in the margins those places to return to for an additional reading once the first reading is done. There should be NO highlighting or underlining in the first read-through. A simple check/dot in the margins is all that should be done at this point. And the reader SHOULD NOT STOP and employ that BAD HABIT: habitual regression!
  4. Review
    This is to check what was marked in the margin, skim and review the material, recall something, find answers, etc. Some quick review methods follow:
    • skim the entire work, slowing on the marked parts
    • skim from marked part to marked part
    • reread difficult parts only
    • scan only for answers to questions
    • review as many times as you need

Some skills that help Speed Reading

Good vocabulary and grammar skills are essential to reading, of course. Also, prior knowledge helps reading comprehension. Prior knowledge may refer to one's experiences or basic knowledge required for the current readings.

Good Reading Strategies

  • The reader takes chances — risks errors with language
  • The reader reads to get meaning NOT to identify letters or words
  • The reader guesses from context at unfamiliar words or SKIPS them and deals with them later at an appropriate time given the reading
  • The reader reads as though he/she expects the text to make sense — Expecting meaning, predicting meaning, making guesses, taking chances. Pushing ahead confidently are strategies that are critical for identifying meaning early on — the brain must relate incoming information to already stored information.
  • The reader samples the text as economically as possible (especially if a good preview took place) and uses the skills of peripheral vision to assist.

Books about Speed Reading

I found some books that teach how to read quickly from P2P networks. The following books can be downloaded using lphant.

  1. A Course in Light Speed Reading, Joseph Bennette
  2. The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program
  3. The Photo Reading Whole Mind System, Paul R. Scheele
  6. The Speed Reading Course, Shepherd & Unsworth-Mitchell
  8. Teach Yourself Speed Reading

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