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EP 10: Techniques To Increase Speed Reading, Developing Reading Habits & More

Episode 10, here we go! Due to some requests from our followers, this week we covered how to speed-read and how to retain information as you read. We discussed the true definition and meaning of speed reading, common techniques taught about speed reading, the 5 techniques to increase speed reading, and how to do active reading.

“The Homework Help Show” is our new weekly live show where we teach, assist, and offer valuable insights on different topics related to students’ academic and personal lives. Want your questions answered? Ask your questions on social media using the hashtag #askHHG


Cath Anne: [00:00:05] As I mentioned speed reading.

Cath Anne: [00:00:08] (To Instagram Viewer): Hi the Neighbourly Consultant. Nice to see you. You didn’t miss anything. We are just starting. I was waiting for some other folks to join. There’s is Kaur; hello folks. Nice to see you. It’s nice to have company.

Cath Anne: [00:00:32] This week we’re going to be talking about speed reading because someone had requested it. I think it was in one of her earlier sessions that someone had requested some information about speed reading so that’s why we decided to take it up as the semester starting to wind down.

Cath Anne: [00:00:51] Speed reading is one of those things that kind of has an interesting history and emphasis. I’ll talk a little bit about that. It’s also a concept, which appeals to everyone because everyone likes to read and reading can benefit a lot of different people. It can be really tempting concept to learn about just because of the fact that it allows you to read more words and take in more books. However, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say about speedreading but we’ll get into that.

Cath Anne: [00:01:40] Anyone who is on campus or is even on Instagram these days we seem to constantly be inundated with advertisements to make our lives better. One of these ways can be through speed reading. There seems to be a little bit of forward momentum around self-help and around reading more books and taking in more information. As we are bombarded a lot of the time by technology it can be difficult to carve out time to read and people are looking for more ways to increase their reading capabilities. Of course speed reading can be a really tempting offer. You may see posters on campus that’ll say, “You can increase your speed reading or your reading limit up to nine hundred words per minute or twelve hundred words per minute.” I would suggest, just based on some research that I’ve done that it’s not necessarily beneficial to read that quickly. I will talk more in depth about why that is.

Instagram Viewer: [00:03:03] I would read more if I could read faster.

Cath Anne: [00:03:05] (To Instagram Viewer): Well I know and, see that’s the tempting part of it is that we consider that if we can increase our reading capacity then we’ll be able to take in more information. However, I’ll get into some of the science around reading and we’ll discuss whether we think that is actually legitimate or not. We will also discuss the negative aspects of reading at such a pace.

Cath Anne: [00:03:34] So I don’t know if you guys remember, a few weeks ago I talked about Thomas Frank. He’s amazing. He does a lot of YouTube videos about productivity and school, how do you increase your grades, how to read properly, and all of that good stuff. So some of this information is drawn from his research. He has done quite extensive research. Kind of his area of expertise and he’s a real inspiration to me. I’d love to kind of get into that niche as well. I drew on a little bit of his research for this topic, just so you guys are aware.

Cath Anne: [00:04:17] The most important component that we need when we are reading is our eyes, obviously. We’re going to be talking about the science of reading. We have to talk about our eyes and how her eyes take in information. That’s where I wanted to start just with the science of reading and how it works with the brain. Then we’ll move on to some specific techniques around reading.

Cath Anne: [00:04:46] When we read we don’t read in a slow, smooth motion we read in what are called saccades. It is spelled S-A-C-C-A-D-E-S. That refers to the process of how we move our eyes when we read. I’ll try to do a little demonstration; it might look a little funny. When we move our eyes across the page we’re reading and those are called saccades. They are the quick jerky movements that we use will more reading time.

Cath Anne: [00:05:24] (To Instagram Viewer): Hi, Ginny. Thanks for joining. We’re just talking about the science of speed reading and the science of reading. So we’re talking about the different types of eye movements that you use when you’re reading.

Cath Anne: [00:05:38] So saccades are the quick jerky movements. When we read to ourselves when we’re reading a book we can read about 8 letters on a page in about 30 milliseconds. So that would be considered saccade. So that’s the amount of words we take in within 30 milliseconds.

Cath Anne: [00:06:00] Then a second movement that we use when we are reading is called a fixation. So that is when we stop and we pause our eyes over a certain amount of text. We fixate on that specific text. In order to read effectively we’re fixating on text. We must take in the information that’s right in front of our eyes and just to the outside of our eyes. We are not taking any information on the periphery because that is not how our eyes work. It is too blurry and we can’t make sense of the information that’s in the periphery. So when we are fixating or when we are using saccades it is only information that’s in front of our eyes and just to the side that we are able to take in.

Cath Anne: [00:06:55] Then in addition to the actual eye movements that make reading possible we have to take into consideration the cognitive processing which occurs when we are reading. So what that means is the time it takes for us to understand and comprehend the information that we are taking into our visual process. Basically reading breaks down to three steps. It is a series of saccades, fixation, and the time it takes to do that cognitive processing which is called the cognitive processing pause. In other words, the time it takes it takes us to understand what we’re reading. As I mentioned, for instance, the saccade takes about 30 milliseconds. On average each of those processes can be allotted to a certain number, which I don’t have right in front of me. But my point in saying that is that even though each process might take a certain amount of time, you can’t simply condense those numbers in order to determine the average length of reading because it just doesn’t work that way.

Cath Anne: [00:08:14] When we are reading there are other factors that need to come into play rather than just speed. Of course we all want to decrease the amount of time it takes us to read. However, there are many other factors, which have to be considered in order to attain an average reading limit. A couple of those factors are: that we generally skip a lot on the page. When we are reading we focus on the concept, the conceptual. So the words that have meaning in them and the words that contribute meaning to the passage. Whereas we don’t put as much emphasis on conjunctions, propositions, and grammar words that intersect and join the language together. Because of that we are missing a lot of information and so that adds time onto our cognitive processing.

[00:09:19] In addition, we’re all probably familiar with how we often have to go back and read a passage. I’m pretty sure it’s a pretty common process. That is called regression. So if you read a page and then you don’t quite make sense of it and you have to go back that’s called regression. That can also take up time or more reading as well which is something that needs to be considered when we’re trying to determine average length of reading.

Instagram Viewer: [00:10:08] Never knew this all existed. Thanks a lot.

Cath Anne: [00:10:11] No problem Neighborly Consultant. We’re just getting started. I’ve got a lot of content this week. And like I said if anyone wants to go back and listen to it again it’ll all be up on YouTube and on our various channels, so no worries there.

Cath Anne: [00:10:31] So another problem that kind of comes into play when we’re trying to determine whether speed reading is appropriate is our working memory. Our working memory is that component of the brain that is functioning when we are reading. So it’s our memory activity at work. When we’re using our working memory it can only take in four chunks of information at a time. A chunk of information is a variety of information. It is different concepts, which are linked through meaning and where we’re learning something complicated or something that we’re unfamiliar with these chunks will be smaller because it will take our brains more time to process them. But if it’s something that we’re more familiar with it’ll take less time. The problem is, when we were trying to do techniques like speed reading, we are taking up too much space in the working memory. We’re taking up too much of it through more than those four chunks. So what we’re sacrificing is comprehension and retention. When we do take in more information, sure that’s great. We can we can take it into our brain but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to understand it and it doesn’t mean that we’re going to retain it. So I think the question kind of becomes: are you reading for comprehension and retention or reading so that you can read?

Cath Anne: [00:12:16] That’s the overall theme here is the speed reading sure can be good but we are missing out potentially on comprehending the information we’re taking in and retaining the information we’re taking in.

Cath Anne: [00:12:34] So that was a lot of information. Does anyone have any questions? So how does this all relate to speed reading? There are some experts out there who would suggest that you can boost your reading limit to twelve hundred words a minute. However, based on a longitudinal study by Keith Rayner, the average student reads… actually I’m going to ask you guys what do you think the average student reads per minute? How many words per minute?

Instagram Viewer: [00:13:48] Is it possible to read too fast? I tend to skip many words. I remember being told in school that my eyes moved way too fast.

Cath Anne: [00:14:00] (To Instagram Viewer): Well that’s interesting. Your eyes move too fast? I’m not sure about that, but I think that’s a common experience, GKaur, that people tend to skip words. I think a lot of people tend to skip words when they’re reading. So I don’t think that’s an uncommon experience. And sometimes you know when you’re saying you were quite young in grade 9 so it’s possible that maybe I don’t know. Correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe you wanted to finish up with your with your readings so you were trying to go a bit too fast and you weren’t taking all the information that was being offered.

Instagram Viewer: [00:14:47] 100 words per second.

Cath Anne: [00:14:50] Anyone else have a guess as to what the average college student reads? How many words per minute?

Cath Anne: [00:15:09] I’m not sure what your eyes moving too fast. I’ve never heard that before but I’m going to talk about some more techniques that will help to kind of slow down that process. So maybe we’ll kind of work it out as we keep talking here.

Instagram Viewer: [00:15:32] Probably 70 words per minute.

Cath Anne: [00:15:35] Surprisingly, so a strong reader and a strong college reader will read on average between 200 and 400 words per minute. That’s an average. So if you’re falling within that then you’re doing well. That is the average so that’s quite a jump too. And that’s a good reader. That’s a strong reader. So it would be quite a jump to go from 200 or 400 to twelve hundred words per minute. I mean certainly it’s possible it’s been done. But as I mentioned retention and comprehension aren’t necessarily possible when you’re reading fast. As I mentioned if you’re reading between 200 and 400 words per minute relevant then you’re in the norm. People who are reading faster than that are sacrificing comprehension. Reading at lower comprehension rates should be called skimming and not speed reading. You’re not really reading any more at that point because reading involves cognitive processing. Whereas skimming is just glancing over the information taking in some of the information but definitely it’s not as extensive as the process of reading.

Cath Anne: [00:17:07] So now I want to talk about what are some common speed reading techniques and whether they work or not whether we think they work or not. Has anyone heard of any speed reading techniques before?

Cath Anne: [00:17:22] I wasn’t too familiar with them until I started actually doing some research on this because it is a quite interesting topic. But I was I was familiar with one of the techniques that I’ll be mentioning. So I open with that to see if anyone else has heard of it before.

Cath Anne: [00:17:47] Has anyone practiced speed reading before or read about it? I don’t know everything about this topic so it would be great to hear from someone who potentially has you speed reading effectively.

Cath Anne: [00:18:17] So one of the techniques is called large fixation. Basically what that means is if I had this page I would look at it at a glance and do an overall scan of the page and take in the information that’s on the page. It’s basically like taking a mental snapshot and then taking in the information from that mental snapshot.

Cath Anne: [00:18:50] However, there are two problems that. If people are reading through a mental snapshot, first of all they’re not really reading. Second of all, they’re not able to follow the lines of the text. In any lines any and any written language we usually write in lines. When we are following the lines we are able to comprehend what is being said. Of course I mean I’m speaking about this is in relation to English. It might be different for other languages. That would be interesting to look into. Because we read in a certain pattern and meaning is ascribed to those lines, it doesn’t make sense that you would be able to take a mental snapshot of the page while not following the lines.

Cath Anne: [00:19:48] The second problem with that is that, as I mentioned, in your peripheral vision you’re unable to take an information. If you are trying to take a mental snapshot of a page then you’re missing out on the bulk of the information because it’s on the periphery and it just doesn’t work from that angle. It has been proven that doing that kind of mental snapshot process, you might skim some information but it’s certainly not a reading technique by any means.

Instagram Viewer: [00:20:28] I heard bit of a never tried those test quizzes in university. I did those signs but I was too shy to try it out.

Cath Anne: [00:20:38] (To Instagram Viewer): Yeah I know, they do seem to be everywhere I feel. But I thought this was really interesting to kind of talk about how speed reading, sure, could be great but maybe not necessarily because we’re not taking in as much information. (To Instagram Viewer(: So, maybe you good, GKaur, for skipping out on it.

Cath Anne: [00:21:06] So this second technique that I’ve heard of which I’ve found really difficult was called sub-vocalization or basically the brain speaking inside your head when you are reading. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with when you’re reading a novel and you are reading and your brain translates the words that you’re reading into language in in your head. That is your brain processing that information and it’s like a little voice in your head that’s reading to you.

Cath Anne: [00:21:44] What has been suggested by speed reader theorists is that if you can suppress that sub-vocalization, you can increase your reading speed. Instead of processing the information as you’re reading it, you’re closing down that voice and just reading. In a study by Elizabeth Shodher indicates that when see words verbally, their brain wants to access the sound of those words in their head in order to make sense of them. That’s a natural process for your brain to be doing, translating the words that you’re reading into verbal sounds in your head and that is how we make sense of information.

Instagram Viewer: [00:22:34] That happens a lot to me.

Cath Anne: [00:22:35] I know me too and so I tried to stop it because I heard this about speed reading that if you slow down that voice then you’ll be able to read faster. I just find that distracts me and then I get frustrated. The reality is that that’s a natural process for us and when we suppress the sub-vocalization, comprehension goes way down because reading is naturally tied to our auditory language processing capabilities. Trying to separate the two just doesn’t work. So it’s scientifically proven that we are OK. Your brain naturally translates those written words into auditory signals into your brain. When we separate those two, we’re just trying to interrupt a natural brain process, which doesn’t work.

Cath Anne: [00:23:42] Let’s talk about some techniques that you can use to increase your reading abilities. The first technique is going to sound a little inconvenient because you know speed reading is so appealing it just has this sound that it’s going to be so promising that we’re going to be able to increase our capacity to read and that we’re going to be able to read more books and read more efficiently because we’re faster at it. But in reality we are potentially minimizing comprehension and retention, which kind of brings into question why are we reading in the first place, if we are not interested in comprehending or reading.

[00:24:29] So the first recommendation that I’m going to provide to you it is a little inconvenient and certainly not a quick fix but like anything and like any skill it is something we have to practice. In order to increase your reading speed you must read often, you have to read a lot of different things, and you have to read challenging material.

Cath Anne: [00:24:54] Like any skill, reading takes time and practice to get good at it. I will reiterate this. I’m trying to develop a career as a freelance writer. I hear this all the time. If it is something you want to do you have to do it. You have to practice it. You have to do it every day and then your brain just gets into the habit of it gets used to it. Particularly, I think reading often so we’re making a habit of doing it every day reading a lot of different things so reading everything from academic journals to articles in the newspaper to literature, expanding your depth of the reading. It will challenge your brain in different ways and make you retain information in different ways. Read challenging material, so read material that’s not just on Reddit. As we all do or on Facebook because technically that’s not reading that’s more skimming. We need to be looking at opportunities to read challenging materials like books, literature, challenging articles on publications like The New York Times and the Atlantic, articles that present quality journalism and then eventually will get better at reading. That is one of the top tips that’s been offered that out there in the literature around reading is that we have to practice. It’s something that we have to just do on a regular basis in order to get better at it.

Cath Anne: [00:26:45] This might be a tip for GKaur. The second tip is for people who like to daydream or get bored when they’re reading and I can do this too. It depends on the time of day for me. I find if I’m tired or if I’m distracted if I try to read before I go to bed, sometimes I just fall asleep. Sometimes I get bored and go on social media. One tip is that when you’re reading say you’re reading a novel and you’re not really interested in it or even an academic paper and you’re not really interested in it, it can be helpful to read it and then find something of interest to link it to. So then your brain has a natural connection and then it gets more interested in what you’re reading.

Cath Anne: [00:27:33] For example, if I’m reading an essay about the brain and cognitive processes, maybe and I try to link that to something I’m interested in like reading. So when its talking about neural processes maybe I’ll think about how I enjoy reading and how reading can help me learn more. So just thinking about how to connect really obscure or abstract information to something concrete that you’re interested in can make that an actual pathway in your brain.

Cath Anne: [00:28:13] A second or third tip is to create a space for yourself to read. So it’s all about forming those habits. So I will not read in bed anymore because I know that when I when I read in bed I’m not going to get very much reading done because I will fall asleep. I sit in a comfortable chair or here at my desk and I read because then my brain becomes associated with this spot that I go to read. It’s like creating a space for yourself to do work your brain just associates that with that particular habit and then you are more readily able to do that in the future. So find your optimal reading spot. That’s what we’ll call that. It’s good to have spots carved out to be able to go there and do that and then your brain associates that spot with that particular habit.

Cath Anne: [00:29:19] Then I wanted to talk a little bit more specifically about academic reading. So when we’re trying to take in bulks of information often especially in any degree really it always seems like there is a ton of information that we all have to take in.

Cath Anne: [00:29:45] One of the one of the tips to navigate this is to free read. When we’re looking at a textbook or an article go through and do a pre-read. So generally when I’m reading an article I will read the abstract, and then I will read the introduction, and then I will read the conclusion and that will give me a sense of the information that’s going to be contained in the body of the article. Then when they go through and read the article everything comes together a lot more smoothly and a lot more articulately in my brain because I already understand concepts which are being presented in the article. This could also work for textbooks. If you go through a chapter say you’re focusing on a chapter goes through and highlight all the headings, highlight all the concepts, the main content and the really important information that exists within the chapter. Then go back and read the chapter more thoroughly and highlight more specific things. What this can do is help you frame the important information that’s in a chapter and not have to read the whole chapter because let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just not realistic. I know your professors would like to believe that we all have the time to be able to read every textbook through and through but it can be really helpful to learn these techniques so pre-read. If it’s an article read the intro, conclusion, abstract, and then read the book of the article.

Cath Anne: [00:31:31] If it’s a textbook go through the chapter and highlight the topics, the headings, the subheadings and then go back and read through more thoroughly because when you do that pre-reading process you’re priming your brain for taking in more information. Then what you can do instead of speed reading is go back and scan. Although we talked about how skimming is not that great for comprehension and retention, you can still pick out the pertinent information. As well you’ve already gone and done your pre-read. So you know the important information and you can go back and pick out the more detailed information through your skim. One way of doing that is called pseudo-skimming and this is a concept that was brought to light by Cal Newport. Pseudo-skimming is a process in which you go through your text and look for the paragraphs, which hold the main ideas, concepts, and theories. So in your skim you’re going to go through read the first sentence and the last sentence of the smaller paragraphs and then you’ll get in a sense of what that paragraph is about and whether it contains pertinent information. Then once you identify those important paragraphs you can slow down and take in the information would you because this was in that paragraph. You don’t necessarily have to read every single paragraph, just the ones that contain the important information and then you can break those down and read them more closely for comprehension and make sure you’re highlighting and going through that process.

Cath Anne: [00:33:38] When you’re doing a pseudo skim of paragraphs like I said make sure you are picking out the first and last sentence of a paragraph because those will determine what information is held within that paragraph. Then you can determine whether that’s a pertinent paragraph to focus on or not. I definitely recommend doing the pre-read before you do that. So you have a sense of the overall chapter and what you’re looking for.

Cath Anne: [00:34:03] Another tip in terms of reading pertaining to textbooks is that often textbooks will highlight and bold different terms and important concepts. So make sure that you’re going through and highlighting those when you’re studying or reading your textbook as well.

Cath Anne: [00:34:37] Overall, I’m not going to discount speed reading because I think it can be beneficial in some capacities but I think we want to question what is our purpose for reading. Do we want to increase our reading capacity so we can say that we’ve read more books than another person or are we in it to learn more and gain insight about the information when we’re reading.

Cath Anne: [00:35:05] It can be really helpful to take a moment after we read to go over the information and really engage with the information so that it becomes a part of you and a part of how you think about things moving forward. So whether it’s a textbook or an academic article or a piece of literature or a self-help book sitting with that information and figuring out how does it fit into your life, how does it fit into your world view? How does it fit into how you’re going to move forward in the world?

Cath Anne: [00:35:40] By critically thinking about the information that we’re taking in we are more apt to recall it. In this way we’re kind of reframing how we’re thinking about reading. As opposed to speed reading and in taking bulks of information at a time that we’re not necessarily comprehending or retaining; we’re talking about engaging with material and taking some time to investigate how that material will play out in our lives.

Cath Anne: [00:36:24] I had one last thing for you which is a book recommendation which has been coming across my life every once in a while and recently it’s a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. The book delves deep into the issue of lack of focus or getting deeply involved in your work.

Cath Anne: [00:36:45] So, GKaur, maybe this is one for you, although everyone is probably super swamped with work right now. I know that it’s really busy for us but this book might be a good one to pick up over the holidays. Cal Newport talks about how when we gravitate towards things like our smartphones, we’re getting distracted on the Internet and we’re actually taking away our focus muscle. So we’re creating a habit of getting away from what we’re focused on or our work or reading. We’re severing that tie so we’re distracting ourselves consistently and in that way we’re not exercising the muscles that it takes for us to continue to focus. So it’s really important.

Cath Anne: [00:37:36] He would advocate that we take away all those distractions and avoid those distractions. In that way we are actually exercising that muscle that helps us to focus and we are able to retain more information and develop our reading abilities and improve our focus abilities more readily. I highly recommend the book Deep Work by Newport because I think it’s really an important book in this day and age because of all the distractions that we have.

Cath Anne: [00:38:09] One last tip to help you on your reading journey make sure that you are reading a lot. Be consistent. Try to set a goal for yourself every day. So whether it’s 25 pages or ten pages, wake up in the morning and have your coffee and enjoy reading a book and get it off your list for the day. When you start to cultivate a habit like that then it will just become more regular. If you do you know four days of reading and twenty-five pages a day, you’re a hundred pages a week within four days really. So it’s just that easy. Sometimes we think we don’t have enough time to do these things, which we don’t. We definitely have limited time these days, but I think we need to do what we can do to carve out space to be able to read.

Cath Anne: [00:39:07] I think that was it for this week. I hope that was helpful. I really enjoy this topic.

Instagram Viewer: [00:39:19] That’s my issue I need to start in the mornings.

Cath Anne: [00:39:22] (To Instagram Viewer): I know The Neighbourly Consultant, that is my issue too him. I’m trying to be more of a morning person. It’s hard though. There never seems to be enough time in a day. That’s what I’ve been reading is a lot about just some of the most successful people in the world (depending on how you define success), get up in the morning and they read and they meditate. So that’s how they start their day. I think there are ways that we can build reading into our lives more readily and it actually doesn’t take that much to start to cultivate the habit you know whether it be even five pages of a day or 10 pages a day it doesn’t have to be as much as 25 pages. If you are a slower reader, which I honestly am slower, reader I think I’m probably on the low end of the words per minute. It does take me a little bit of time to read things because I think I have I take longer to process things cognitively sometimes. Just don’t be too hard on yourself and start practicing because the more you practice the more your brain is going to get used to reading.

Cath Anne: [00:41:04] Well, I think that’s it for me this week. Hope you enjoyed that I really enjoyed doing the research for this one. I don’t know if you guys have any other questions or comments or suggestions for topics that would be great because we want to really bring information, that viewers want to see.

Cath Anne: [00:41:39] Feel free to join us next week we will be here again live with The Homework Help Global “Learning Studio” on Instagram and Facebook. If you do want to access this information another time, we always have our videos up on Facebook. We’re also on Twitter and LinkedIn. We’re on Instagram of course we’re on Google Plus, YouTube, Medium and now also Soundcloud, Anchor, iTunes Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music. If you want to find just search Homework Help Global, and we will be there. .

Cath Anne: [00:42:20] Also, if you do have any questions please leave them to us in our DMs on Instagram or message us on Facebook. You can use the #askHHG on Twitter or on Facebook or on Instagram and you can connect with us there. We really appreciate you guys engaging with us. Love doing this and love bringing you some valuable content. If you do have any ideas please hit us up because I’m always open to learning about new things and doing research on things. It is one of my passions. We can keep this conversation going.

Instagram Viewer: [00:43:08] Winter blues are really indeed! Great session today. Thanks for all that information. It was great. Will try reading with those tips.

Cath Anne: [00:43:15] (To Instagram Viewer): Awesome GKaur! Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I will see you folks all next week. Nice to see you. Take care. Have a good night.