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

Part I. Getting Up to Speed with What You Read

Chapter 4. The Eyes Have It

In This Chapter

• Eye warm-ups

• The bigger the words, the bigger the bang for your reading buck

• Meet the whole group

• Mix-and-match strategies

Which do you think is more important for speed reading, your eyes or your brain? If your eyes are fast but you have no brain comprehension, the activity is useless. If your brain comprehends everything, but your eyes move slowly, you won’t be able to speed read. So to read faster, you need the cooperation of your eyes and your brain, but think of your eyes as the catalyst for your brain.

Your eyes are the gateway to your mind. If your gate is open a ½ inch, that’s what the mind processes. If your gate is open 4 inches, the mind processes that much. The goal of this book, and specifically this chapter, is to help you learn how to broaden your eye span to see more words at a time while maintaining, or improving, comprehension.

As you read through and experiment with the strategies in this chapter, try every strategy a few times before deciding whether you want to keep it or discard it. There’s no one best way to read, just the way(s) you find most useful.

First Things First

Before we go too far, let’s pause a moment to think about your eye health. When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Given that your eyes are so important for reading, you need to take good care of them. After all, your eyes are the input mechanism to your brain. If your eyes aren’t tuned up, it will be even more challenging for you to read quickly—or read slowly or comfortably, for that matter!

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends most adults get regular eye exams (see the following table) or when you feel your vision has changed enough to make reading difficult. If you wear glasses, you may need an update to your prescription. If you’ve never worn glasses (lucky you!), as you get past the age of 40, your visual acuity may be affected and you may need reading glasses to see the words on a page clearly.

Suggested Frequency of Eye Exams for Adults*

Speed Secret

The good news about getting a pair of glasses for reading is that you can see your reading material clearer. The bad news is that you may need another pair of glasses specifically for reading on a computer screen. Reading on screen requires a distance of approximately 18 to 30 inches; when you’re reading on paper, the distance from your eyes to the page is typically less.

Get Ready to Run

In Chapter 3, you experimented with several ways to increase your peripheral vision and see more words at a glance. That’s good exercise for your eyes, because your eyes are like any other muscles in your body: when not in use, they become a little rusty.

The more you use them, the more fluid they become. I don’t know of any runner who doesn’t warm up his or her legs before heading out on a run. Nor should anyone head out to read, either on paper or on screen, without warming up his or her eyes first.

Now, I’m not talking about 10-minute sweaty warm-ups; I’m talking about a cool 30 to 60 seconds—that’s all! The Left-Right Exercise (see Chapter 3) is the easiest one to start with; the Discipline Your Eyes Exercise is also good (see Chapter 3).

Speed Tip

Copy the Discipline Your Eyes Exercise and place it near everything you read. Put a copy on or near your work area, next to your computer screen, and in your reading piles to remind you to warm up your eyes!

Focus on the Bigger Words

If you’re a word-for-word reader or feel you have to read every word to understand, you’re reading in first gear. You might like the comfort of first gear, but it’s not going to get you where you want to go. You want and need to read faster.

Reading faster means reducing the number of times your eye needs to stop on the page for your brain to comprehend what you’re reading. Reading the bigger words, the key words, is one way to accomplish this.

Reading the key words accomplishes several things:

• It speeds up your reading.

• It reduces your subvocalization, or mental or physical talking.

• It encourages you to naturally spread your peripheral vision.

• It ensures comprehension because the bigger words typically carry more meaning.

• It improves focus and concentration because you’re looking for the bigger words.

def·i·ni·tion

The bigger words you read are also called the key words. Key words are typically three letters long or longer and carry the most meaning in a sentence.

Reading key words will be uncomfortable at first because you’re not used to it, but as you practice more, your eyes and your brain will adjust.

Meet the Key Words

Read the following paragraph several times. As you read, focus your eyes only on the bold, bigger words. (Note that sometimes a smaller word is included because it’s at the beginning of a sentence or a valuable action word.) Be aware of your peripheral vision, and see if you can spread it as you look at the bold words.

If you are really serious about getting your finances under control, then you need to first know your spending habits. Start by reviewing your checkbook register. Then for 1 month, write down everything you spend money on,from the coffee lattes to fast-food meals to groceries and other necessitiesInclude how much you spent and how you paid for it—know that checks and credit and debit cards are trackable while cash expenditures are not. Afterthe month, review and add up your expenses. You might be shocked at how much you spent on bottled water from the quickie mart! Learn from this and make the necessary adjustments.

Speed Bump

There are no right or wrong key words, but if you read too many words, you’ll waste your time. If you read too few, you’ll have trouble understanding. Play around with this method until you feel good at it.

How do your eyes feel? Were you able to just stop your eyes on the bold words? Could you understand what the paragraph was about without “reading” every single word? Now look at the words that aren’t bold. Not very important, huh?

This paragraph contains 106 words, 66 of which are identified as key words. If you think of this as a typical example, you can safely assume that about 50 percent of the words on a page are significant for comprehension while the remaining 50 percent are not. By getting good at locating the bigger words on your own, you can just about double your reading speed immediately!

Try reading the following paragraph looking for and stopping your eyes only on the bigger words. Work at spreading your peripheral vision. This time, you choose the key words. Do it several times until you feel your eyes are moving smoothly.

Do you know anyone who is not busy these days? We are all busy doing lots of things that we hope will get us ahead at work, manage our families, and/or develop our skills. But how many of us consciously make time to spend with friends on a regular basis? With so much of our lives caught up with getting things done and our modes of communication being done via e-mail and voicemail, I can easily see how we neglect our friends. More than that, we have neglected our own need for quality human interaction. In several articles I read recently, the authors suggest that a person can reduce stress by simply making time for more face-to-face communications and other real-life interactions. It can even add years to your life.

How did you do with this paragraph? Did you find the exercise possible, or were you worried about finding the “right” words? Were you aware of the different movements your eyes made? Do you think you were talking less?

You might be thinking that reading faster means skipping words. It might feel this way, yes, but if the other smaller words weren’t there, you’d have a pretty hard time understanding what you read. By reading the key words, you’re incorporating more words into a glance, using your peripheral vision and focusing on the bigger words so you can move your eyes forward faster. And you’re not hearing those words in your head, but the words and their meanings are registering in your brain.

Speed Secret

Reading just the key words does not mean skipping words. The smaller words are incorporated with the larger words each time your eyes stop and pick up a key word.

Play with the Bigger Words

Let’s see how this works on a One-Minute Timing. With an article from Appendix B, or starting where you left off during your last One-Minute Timing, time yourself reading for 1 minute looking only for the bigger, key words. Challenge yourself to go as quickly as you can. Recognize that your comprehension may temporarily suffer; don’t be preoccupied with it at this point. Remember to write your results on the “One-Minute Timing Progress Chart” in Appendix C.

What do you think about this new reading method? Do you like it? Do you think you could get used to it with more experience? Play with it on easier reading materials first, like e-mail, newspapers, magazines, and light novels. Then move on to the more challenging or technical material when you feel comfortable with the strategy.

Speed Tip

When you do any timed exercise in this book, always compare your newest score with your oldest, or first, One-Minute Timing. This is how to best gauge your true progress.

And be reassured that not every strategy in this book will work for you, so if this one doesn’t do it, there are more! Keep trying them all to find the right combination for you.

Grab a Chunk and Go

When you learned to read, you learned one word at a time. But every sentence is not only made up of individual words but also groups of words that form a thought. You can read much faster and with good comprehension when you practice thought chunking.

def·i·ni·tion

Thought chunking is a reading strategy in which you learn to look for the groups of words that form thoughts in a sentence.

If you look at the way the words are put together in each group, you’ll find a chunk of meaning, making it easier to read and understand at a glance. (A great example of this is the Discipline Your Eyes Exercise you learned in Chapter 3. Turn back and review that exercise if you want to.)

Meet the Chunks

To practice, take a look at the following paragraph. It’s the same one you read looking at the bigger words in the previous “Meet the Key Words” section, but now it’s separated into chunks with slash marks. Read and digest each slash mark-separated thought as quickly as you can and then move on to the next. Feel how your eyes need and like to move ahead.

If you are really serious/about getting your finances/under control,/then you need/to first know/your spending habits./ Start by reviewing/your checkbook register./ Then for 1 month,/write down everything/you spend money on,/from the coffee lattes/to fast-food meals/to groceries and other necessities./ Include how much you spent/and how you paid for it/—know that checks/and credit and debit cards/are trackable/while cash expenditures/are not./ After the month,/ review/and add up/your expenses./ You might be shocked/at how much you spent/on bottled water/from the quickie mart!/ Learn from this/and make the necessary adjustments./

Speed Tip

The size of the thought chunks doesn’t matter, as long as each chunk is a thought and makes sense to you. If you group too many words together, you’ll waste your time; if you group too few, you’ll have trouble understanding.

Using the first sentence as an example, there are 20 words broken into 6 chunks of meaning. Think about your brain: would it rather process 20 individual words or 6 thought chunks? The 6 thoughts are much easier!

Try reading the following paragraph, looking for where one thought ends and another begins. Again, work at spreading your peripheral vision. Try reading the paragraph several times until you feel your eyes moving smoothly.

Do you know anyone who is not busy these days? We are all busy doing lots of things that we hope will get us ahead at work, manage our families, and/or develop our skills. But how many of us consciously make time to spend with friends on a regular basis? With so much of our lives caught up with getting things done and our modes of communication being done via e-mail and voicemail, I can easily see how we neglect our friends. More than that, we have neglected our own need for quality human interaction. In several articles I read recently, the authors suggest that a person can reduce stress by simply making time for more face-to-face communications and other real-life interactions. It can even add years to your life.

So how was this strategy for you? Easier or more challenging than reading the key words? Were you aware of your eye movements? Learning to move your eyes from thought chunk to thought chunk forces your eyes to move in directed strides across the lines instead of the lock-step, word-for-word reading.

You might have found your head bobbing up and down as you reached the end of a chunk or heard a little sing-song la-la, la-la, la-la in your head. These are quite natural, and once you get used to the strategy, your head will likely stay still. If you have a sense of rhythm when you’re reading, but it isn’t sing-song, then you are doing it correctly and you will read noticeably faster.

Speed Secret

Some people find they’re more concerned with getting the concept of phrasing right instead of just trying the exercise without worrying about accuracy. As with key words, there is no right or wrong thought chunks—as long as each chunk makes sense!

Play with the Chunks

Let’s see how this works on a One-Minute Timing. With an article from Appendix B, or starting where you left off during your last One-Minute Timing, time yourself reading for 1 minute looking only for the thought chunks. Challenge yourself to go as quickly as you can. Remember that comprehension may temporarily suffer; don’t be preoccupied with it at this point. Remember to write your results on the “One-Minute Timing Progress Chart” in Appendix C.

Speed Tip

Reading in thought chunks works best on material with wide columns. Some newspapers and magazines columns are very narrow, making it challenging, but not impossible, to read using this strategy. E-mail and other online text is usually shown in wide columns, so try this method on those materials.

How do you like this method? Is it one you could see yourself using in the future? Try it on easy readings (e-mail, newspapers, magazines, etc.) before deciding to keep it or move on to the next method.

The Power of Combination

As you learn these tools for reading faster and more efficiently, you might feel capable of implementing only one at a time. Or you might want to combine a couple. The more comfortable you are with one method, the easier it is to work with other methods to create a more powerful reading strategy.

In addition to increasing your peripheral vision, which enables you to read more in less time, one of the best reasons to get proficient at any of these methods is you naturally concentrate better! In our world of constant interruption and distraction, we could all use more strategies to help us concentrate.

Remember that you can use these strategies for on-screen reading tasks as well. (For more about reading on screen, see Chapter 12.)

And the Results Are …

When you start using any new reading strategy, three things can happen to your reading speed:

• It can speed up.

• It can stay the same.

• It can slow down.

If, right off the bat, you find your speed increasing, stick with that method and get good at it. It comes naturally to you, and you are in a good place ready to make it yours.

If your speed stays the same (within 25 words of your first timing), you may be overly concerned with your comprehension and not ready to let it go. (Remember, you need to train your eyes to pick up the information first before asking your brain to understand it.) You may also be having some initial difficulty picking out the bigger words or thought chunks—that’s normal! With a little more practice, you should find this gets much easier.

If your speed goes down (more than 25 words less than your first timing), a couple things might be at play. You might rightfully be preoccupied with quickly locating the “right” bigger words (Is this a big word or is that a big word? I’m not sure …) or thinking about getting the thought chunks (Is this a chunk? I’m not sure …). This mechanical process of learning a new strategy is quite natural and normal. Be reassured that when your eyes adjust to locating this information, your speed will increase with your reading confidence.

Or you might definitely not be ready to let go of comprehension. You’ve been reading with the quest of comprehension ever since you learned how to read. Now, you’re being asked to “read” without concern for comprehension (at first). It is a challenging thing to do, but know you can do it!

The best thing you can do is trust your brain! It’s quite capable of processing more information at a glance if you allow it to.

Speed Tip

These reading tools are not skills. Skills are built over time by repetitively using the tools. Experiment every day on the reading material you have at work, for school, or for pleasure.

The Least You Need to Know

• The eyes are the window to your brain, so they need to read with acuity. Take good care of your eyes.

• Reading the bigger, key words can help reduce mental talking while helping you read faster—with comprehension.

• Quickly locating the thought chunks while reading immediately improves your comprehension. Speed also comes with practice.

• Combining key words and thought chunks is a very powerful method for reading with speed and comprehension.