The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading (2008)

Part III. Tuning Up Your Speed

In Part 3, I present some valuable information about how to tune up your reading speed. I’ve approached this topic in several ways. The first is to look at what you can speed read and what you can’t, reminding you that once you know how to speed read, you always have a choice. Next we venture into the world of on-screen reading, adapting the paper speed reading strategies you already learned for reading better and faster on-screen. And finally, I take a deeper look at the three not-so-helpful reading habits everyone has and give you tips for reducing your reliance on them.

Chapter 11. What to Speed Read... and What Not To

In This Chapter

• Do I have to read everything fast?

• Choose your own reading speed

• The best materials to speed read

• Shakespeare and speed reading don’t mix

• Experience is your best teacher

Believe it or not, not everything should be sped read. Just because you have the ability to go into the higher gears doesn’t mean you should all the time, on every bit of material you pick up. Sure, some materials do lend themselves to faster reading strategies, but many do not. But how do you know when to kick it into high gear and when to slow things down?

In this chapter, I offer some thoughts about when to speed read and when to take it a little slower.

Common Misperceptions About Speed Reading

If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked hundreds of times: “If I learn to speed read, will I have to read my novels fast (because I really don’t want to)?” Likewise, I get this a lot: “If I learn to speed read, won’t I lose understanding of my business reading (because I don’t want that to happen)?” I understand these concerns, but let’s look at the realities.

Just because you learn how to speed read, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically speed read everything. You probably know how to run, but you don’t run everywhere, do you? Most likely you walk much more often than you run. The same is true for speed reading. When you know how to speed read, chances are you’ll also know when to speed read. Trust me, you won’t be uncontrollably forced to read everything fast, from now on and forever!

Speed Bump

Some people believe that drinking lots of coffee or eating tons of sugar or chocolate will “rev up” your brain to read faster. It might work to keep you alert for a short period of time, but it’s not recommended as a speed reading strategy!

The same is true for the person who thinks he won’t understand his business reading and refuses to use his speed reading strategies on that material. A big part of speed reading—if you haven’t picked up on this by now—is reading fast encourages concentration which creates comprehension. Anyone can read fast, but reading fast and understanding what you read are the main components of speed reading (see Chapter 5).

And for the people who say they’ll never speed read their novels because they love to savor every word: who says you have to read novels fast?

Speed Up or Slow Down, It’s Your Choice

In Chapter 1, I talked about the reading gears and how most people are stuck in first or second gear because they just don’t know how to get into third, fourth, or fifth gear. I think it’s appropriate to revisit this idea now and remind you that you always have the choice of how fast, or slow, you want to read. When you choose to use speed reading strategies, you have more focus on your reason why and where your eyes and brain are going, which fosters deeper concentration, which in turn garners comprehension.

Think of your speed reading strategies like tools on a carpenter’s tool belt: you’ll use some of the tools frequently and others not often at all, but they’re always there for you to choose from. And the more you use a tool, the better you’ll be at using it. But be reassured you don’t have to use any of them if you so choose.

When I taught speed reading classes that met for multiple sessions over a period of several weeks, students had time to experience what allows them to speed up and what slows them down. Toward the end of the last session, I asked them to document their experiences, listing in two columns the things that speed them up and the things that slow them down. Following is one speed reader’s list.

Speed Secret

Reading is a conscious process; you have to make a conscious and concerted effort to create speed. Your reading speed doesn’t go into high gear by itself.

If you compare the speed-up side to the slow-down side, the responses are mostly opposites of each other. So if you aren’t happy with the reading results you’re getting, try doing the opposite!

What to Speed Read

Some of the best material to practice your speed reading strategies on can be found at any newsstand. Between newspapers, magazines, and light novels, you have a plethora of material to choose from.

Speed Tip

To find material to practice your speed reading strategies on, go to a store or library that carries newsstand-type material. Purchase or borrow at least five pieces of reading material where you can “play” with your strategies. Because you’re using these for speed reading practice, you don’t have to be as concerned with getting complete comprehension.

The column width in these types of material tends to be narrow, which many speed readers find helpful for locating key words and using many of the pacers. And pictures or other graphics are usually included, which makes it easier to understand. (The adage “a picture’s worth a thousand words” is most often true!) Newsstand material is typically printed in 11- or 12-point font, which is easier to read. And the spacing between lines is helpful for those who tend to read the tops of lines (see Chapter 3).

Although you might not have a need to use your highlighter on this type of material, you’ll want to tear out articles for later review or use sticky notes to mark useful pages.

Overall, have fun! It can be really enjoyable to experience reading in a whole new way, even if you aren’t comfortable with your strategies yet.

What Not to Speed Read

You can read many kinds of material quickly, but some types of reading material shouldn’t be read quickly, for a few reasons:

• The words themselves aren’t easy to read.

• Your reason why prohibits it.

• You need to appreciate the author’s style.

• You need to really think about what you’re reading.

• You are editing, not reading.

Let’s look at some types of writing you should take your time with.

Shakespeare Slows Everyone Down

William Shakespeare was a prolific poet and playwright who wrote in Old English style. Because of his turns of phrase and antiquated writing style, reading Shakespeare can be quite challenging, even in the lower gears.

Reading the Bard in the high gears is not recommended and can be quite challenging if you want to understand his writing. Take your time with Shakespeare, and other similar forms of writing, if you want to get the most out of it.

Speed Secret

Shakespeare wrote, “Knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” And what better way to get more knowledge than through reading?

Thou Shalt Not Speed Read (the Bible)

The Bible is the most purchased and most read book of our time. Like Shakespeare, the Bible should not be read in the higher gears. Every passage contains thought-provoking concepts that would be lost by reading too fast.

Similarly, most other philosophical writing needs to be read more slowly.

Speed Read Poetry? Alas, It Is Not to Be

Poetry showcases the beauty of language and how distinctive thoughts can be expressed in unique and rhythmic ways. Therefore, poetry is not recommended for speed reading. Poetry should be read and digested slowly, with each word being heard or pronounced, often repeatedly.

Speed Secret

When you study something such as poetry, meaning you need to commit some information to memory, then speed reading isn’t the way to go. Studying typically slows your reading speed down to first or second gear so you can mentally repeat the information or create a summary of what you know. That slow speed is very appropriate! Students need to learn how to first understand what they read—and they can do this using speed reading strategies—before they slow down their reading speed to study it (see Chapter 5).

“Speed Read Dialogue?” She Asked. “Surely Not!”

Dialogue is a natural speed reducer. When you read dialogue, you want to hear what the characters are saying to each other, word for word in your head and in the tone of voice described. This word-for-word reading naturally slows you down.

The next time you’re reading a novel, try to be aware of how your reading flows during the descriptive paragraphs and how you automatically slow down over dialogue.

Although most readers should probably read Shakespeare, the Bible, poetry, study material, and dialogue at a slower speed, I do believe that a trained speed reader can possibly read these materials in second or third gear, if they choose. First gear is always a possibility, but even a little faster is better for concentration and comprehension.

On the Fence: Technical Material

Now we come to a somewhat gray area: technical material. In a nutshell, technical material is any material you consider difficult or unfamiliar based on your background knowledge. So what you might label “technical material” might not be “technical” to another reader.

Approach technical material with the speed reading strategies that work best for you— or not—to make it less intimidating and easier to read (see Chapters 5, 6, and 10).

Your Experience Dictates

As you’ve read through this book and performed the timed exercises, you’ve most likely come across situations where you notice a change in your reading speed. Maybe a wide column width slowed you down. Maybe reading an unfamiliar word caused you to stop and reflect. Or maybe the names in the reading caused you to slow down to take notice. Alternately, you might have found that reading about something you have interest in makes your reading speed naturally faster or one author’s writing style is better than another for practicing speed reading strategies.

Being aware of who you are as a reader and how you interact with the text are important ingredients for mastering speed reading. This includes knowing what speeds you up or slows you down, what interests you and what doesn’t, what strategies you are comfortable with and which you aren’t, and generally what works for you and what doesn’t. I know some people want to know the one way to read faster, but the best I can offer those folks are the choices in this book. It’s up to each one of you to decide how to put the strategies to work.

And the Results Are …

Let’s check in on your reading progress. Do either a One-Minute Timing or a 3-2-1 Drill found in Appendix B. Be aware of what slows you down and what speeds you up. Remember to record your progress on the appropriate charts in Appendix C.

The Least You Need to Know

• People believe that once they learn the speed reading strategies, they have to read everything fast all the time. Not true!

• You have control over your reading speed. Knowing what speeds you up and what slows you down is very helpful when monitoring your reading speed.

• Newsstands have great material for practicing speed reading.

• Approach Shakespeare, the Bible, poetry, study material, and dialogue with slower reading speeds.

• Knowing who you are as a reader and how you interact with your reading material can best dictate your speed.