Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

To Speed Or Not To Speed: Reading

No matter what you read, where you read, or how you read, there’s only so much time you get to do it. As I discussed last time, in “To Save or Kill Trees: How do you Read”, it doesn’t appear to matter whether or not you read from electronics or paper-based materials, it’s a personal preference. So is speed and amount that you read. So how fast should you read?

Apparently, according to a speed reading ‘test’ [1], the average reading speed is about 240 words per minute (WPM) with 60% comprehension, while an ‘excellent, accomplished reader’ could read around 1000 WPM, with 85% comprehension.

Personally, I got 423 WPM with 82% comprehension, making me a ‘good reader,’ which seems fairly accurate considering I am very much a book lover and read majority of the time. However, this site appears to support that the more you read, the faster, the better the comprehension, meaning that speed reading is good.

But does speed reading really work?

speed-readingImage from

Speed reading is defined as being able ‘to read faster than normal, especially by acquired techniques of skimming and controlled eye movements’ [5]. There are a number of different programs, seminars, and instructional sites/papers (Example: see [6]) that claim to be able to teach you to speed read, with varying results. One such is a part of the For Dummies series, called “Speed Reading for Dummies.” One thing it says you can’t do for speed reading is vocalize the words – that little voice in your head that says the words you’re reading – which apparently slows reading, affects comprehension, and causes regression, or going back over what you just read [2].

So theoretically, speed reading does the opposite, right?

Studies have been done to see if speed reading is really as beneficial as some claims it is. Two that I found were by psychologists, who examined those who had chosen to take a course or program on speed reading [4], or gave them a course on speed reading [3]. Both found that the comprehension of what was being read was significantly lower than those who read at their normal pace, without skimming.

So, speed reading is bad?

speed-reading (1).jpg

Image from

Not necessarily. While the comprehension of what was read was lower from speed reading, it was dependent on what was being read. Both theorized that speed reading something you already had knowledge of, or had already read previously, was fairly effective for refreshing your memory or finding specific passages. Whereas if you speed read something you hadn’t known about previously, something like pre-readings for classes, it wouldn’t be as effective as you could easily miss important points since you wouldn’t know to seek them out specifically.

So whether you speed read or read slowly depends on you and the situation. If you’re just trying to find something you’ve previously read, speed reading is easier than reading through the whole entire thing. If you are reading something for the first time, or really need to remember all the information, reading at a normal pace would be more beneficial.

Next time, reading versus not reading.







[2] Sutz, R, Weverka, P 2009, Speed Reading for Dummies, Wiley Publishing Inc., USA.

[3] Just, M. A, Carpenter, P. A 1987, Speedreading, The psychology of reading and language comprehension, 425-452.

[4] Rayner, K. Schotter, E. R, Masson, M. E. J, Potter, M. C & Treiman, R 2016, ‘So Much to Read, So Little Time. How Do We Read, and Can Speed Reading Help?’, Psychological Science in the Public, Vol. 17, Issue 1, 4-34, doi: 10.1177/1529100615623267.






2 comments on “To Speed Or Not To Speed: Reading

  1. scithunk
    April 20, 2016

    I really enjoyed your post. Actually quite timely, given the amount of reading required as a uni student. Interesting to note the pros and cons of speed reading. I’ve never sat down and thought about it, but it makes a lot of sense. By the way, you have a typo – versus, not verses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. danameieruni
    May 9, 2016

    Great choice of topic! As a fellow book-lover, I was pretty keen to study-up and comment on this, but there’s surprisingly little information about speed-reading out there (that isn’t published by people trying to sell speed-reading courses). My favourite part has been comments by people who claim to read more than 1000wpm with perfect comprehension, though. I believe pretty much none of them. (

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2016 by in Burwood - Friday 11am and tagged .

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