The Science Behind Reading Speed – College Info Geek
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The Science Behind Reading Speed – College Info Geek

Just finished reading
my sixth book this week! Man, I just love reading
books, ’cause they’re so like, packed full of
knowledge, you know? Luckily for me, I know
secret speed reading techniques passed down
from a 22nd degree black belt kung fu
master who reached enlightenment by eating
an entire library. And if you wanna learn
those same secrets and read 18 books a
week, just like me, take my speed reading course. Only 14 easy payments, and
one hard payment of 19.99! Tax, title, license
fee, shipping, handling, and itching powder
removal fee not included. Now, if you’ll excuse
me, I need to get back to gaining vast amounts
of knowledge. (hardcore dance music) Ok, let’s be real here. The idea that you could
learn to speed read, that is, learn to drastically
increase your reading speeds and plow through more books
than you ever thought possible has been around for
quite a long time. If you’re in college, you’ll
probably see a flyer on campus at some point advertising
a speed reading seminar that can teach you how to
read at 900 words per minute, 1,200 words per minute,
or even beyond that, and countless bloggers have
talked about the supposed techniques you can use to
learn how to speed read. And so much of it is BS. So I wanted to create
a little series to set the record straight on
speed reading, and also show you how you can actually
realistically increase your reading speeds, and what I
want to do with this video in particular is lay
out the science of how reading actually works. Now, reading is
possible through, wait
for it, eye movement. I know, crazy, right? But
there are actually several different types of eye movement. For instance, there’s something
called smooth pursuit, which our eyes do when we’re
tracking a moving subject. And you can do it right
now, just follow my finger on screen, and you might be
feeling a little bit sleepy, which, in that case, (coughs)
give me all your money. There’s also vergence,
which is what happens when your eyes move closer
together to focus on a subject in the middle
of your field of vision, and also something called
vestibular eye movement, which is what happens when
your eyes are fixed upon a fixed subject, but your
head moves, and your eyes compensate for
the head movement. When reading, though,
our eyes move in quick, jerky movements called saccades. When we’re reading
silently to ourselves, the average saccades length
is about two visual degrees, which equates to about
eight letters on a page. And this takes about
30 milliseconds to do. Now, when your eye
stops and focuses on the text, that’s
called a fixation. To understand fixations,
first you need to know about the three ranges
of vision your eyes have. First, there’s the
foveal, which spans about two visual degrees right in
the center of the retina, then the parafoveal, which
goes about five degrees on either side of
any given fixation, and finally, your
peripheral vision. Your peripheral vision
is pretty blurry, you can make out
shapes and movement, but it can’t really pick
up a whole lot of detail. The foveal, by contrast,
picks up detail really well, and this is absolutely
critical for reading. Most of what you can understand
in any given fixation needs to be in
that foveal range. Maybe one or two
letters can be in the parafoveal
range, but that’s it. And the average fixation
when you’re reading silently takes about 225 milliseconds,
though this is an average. The range is typically
anywhere from 100 milliseconds to
500 milliseconds. Furthermore, your
reading speed isn’t just determined by
fixations and saccades. There’s also the actual
cognitive processing time that you have to go
through in order to understand what you just read. We’ll get more into cognition
and how your brain learns in future videos, but for
now, I wanna make a brief note about your working
memory, which is what you’re using when you read. Research has shown that our
working memory can really only handle about four chunks of information at any given time, a chunk being a bundle
of information that is loosely connected
through meaning. Chunks for difficult
material or things you’re unfamiliar with will be small,
whereas chunks for things that you are familiar
with will be bigger, but for both, the
concept here is the same. Your brain can only
handle so many at a time, and reading too
quickly can result in a loss of comprehension. That being said, a good
figure to keep in mind is that pauses for comprehension
while you’re reading will generally take between
300 and 500 milliseconds. So essentially,
reading breaks down into a three-step
process, we have the saccade that moves
on to the fixation, and finally, the cognitive
processing pause. Now, even though we have
average duration data for all three of these things,
it’s not like we can just add it up together and get
an average reading speed. A number of other
factors come into play, including the fact that when
we read we actually skip a lot of the words on the page. Words can be separated
into two different types, there’s content words,
the words that actually express the ideas
you’re reading about, and function words,
words that express the grammatical relationships
between those content words. Research has shown
that readers fixate on about 85% of the content
words in any given text, while they only focus on about
35% of the function words. On the other hand, reading
also includes a lot of regression, going back to read
over previously read words. Some regressions are
small corrections when a saccade’s distance is
too long, whereas longer regressions will be to go
over material that you already read once, but didn’t really
understand the first time. For skilled readers, about
15% of their reading time will be made up of
these regressions. Now that you have
a grasp of the main factors that go into
the process of reading, let’s look at what a realistic
reading speed really is. Some speed reading
“experts” will tell you that you can boost
your reading rate to around 1,200
words per minute, which is a figure
that many people cite John F. Kennedy reading
at, and some even say you can get higher than that. But, according to Keith
Rayner, who’s a psycholinguist at the University of
Massachusetts Amherst, and who did a huge study
on 20 years of research in both eye movement tracking
and reading speed studies, observations of college
level readers show that most people read between 200
and 400 words per minute. And lastly, there’s
the concept of reading flexibility, a lot of
the advice on speed reading assumes that you should be
reading at a constant rate, but in the real world,
this really isn’t the case. When you’re reading
something where the concepts are presented more
closely, or the material’s more difficult,
you’re gonna slow your reading rate down
so you can keep understanding what
it is you’re reading. And by contrast, when
you’re reading something where the concepts
are more spaced out, or you’re already familiar
with what it is you’re reading, you can increase that
reading rate without a huge loss of comprehension. So here’s the final
conclusion that I want you to take from this first video
in the speed reading series. If you’re reading
between 200 and 400 words per minute
already, you’re in the norm. You’re fine. My friend Shane, who runs
the incredibly smart blog Farnam Street, is a
great example of this. Shane reads about three
to five books a week, but he’s very clear
on his site that he reads at an average pace. Speed readers who
claim that they can do any more than 400, maybe
500 words per minute tops, are doing so at a
loss of comprehension. In general, reading at
lower comprehension rates should be considered skimming. And that’s what
speed reading is. It’s skimming. After a certain reasonable
point, you get an inverse relationship between
your reading speed and your level of comprehension. Which one is more
important to you? So, that is where we’re
gonna end this video, if you’d like to dig a
little bit deeper into the research I did for it,
I’ve linked to a lot of sources in the companion blog
post for this video, so you can click
the card right now, or the link down in the
description to read them. Next week, we’re
gonna look at some of the common techniques
that speed readers claim will increase
your reading speed, and see if there’s any
validity whatsoever to them, and then after that,
we’re gonna do a video on how you can actually
increase your reading speeds. So stay tuned for
those videos coming in the next couple of weeks,
if you enjoyed this video, giving it a like definitely
helps this channel, and I will see you
in the next video. (energetic dance music) Hey guys, thanks so
much for watching this first video of my
speed reading series. Now, if you want to get new
videos every single week on being a more
effective student, including the further
speed reading videos, you can click that big red
subscribe button right there. Also, if you want
to read a book on how to earn better
grades, I wrote one, it’s absolutely free,
and I’ll send you a copy if you click a picture
of the book right there! Like I said, if you
want to get the sources that I used for the
research in this video, and there are a lot of
them, as well as a summary, you can go to the
companion blog post by clicking the orange
logo right there! Last week was a
little bit more of a philosophical video
on how we should give more appreciation
to people in all sorts of different
jobs, so check that out if you haven’t seen it, and if
you want to connect with me, I’m on Twitter @TomFrankly, or you can leave
a comment below. Thanks for watchin’!

About James Carlton

Read All Posts By James Carlton

100 thoughts on “The Science Behind Reading Speed – College Info Geek

  1. Am I the only one who is annoyed he ripped off a Mitch Hedberg joke and made it unfunny at the same time?

  2. I taught myself to speed read. I'm still working on it. I have gone from a baseline of 400 wpm to 800 wpm on an average book. I find I understand better and remember more when I speed read because I have to stay really focused to be able to speed read.

  3. My relationship with speed reading:

    Step 1 – I get dissatisfied with my reading speed.
    Step 2 – I start moving my eyes a lot faster.
    Step 3 – I realize I'm focusing on moving my eyes and not the material.
    Step 4 – I get upset that I doubled my time waste. Like buying groceries to save money and letting them rot in your cabinet.

    On the other hand, if I just focus on the material I'll get lost in it. Hours pass. Then I'm surprised to look up and see so many pages read.

    Maybe the best speed reading tactic is slow reading with diligence and patience.

  4. What do you say to Tony Buszan? Because he really did research in this topic and you somehow try to destroy his research with your video?
    I guess he got a point there too.

  5. You could argue that 80% of the book's importance is in only 20% of the text, and speed reading will definitely let you hit at least 20% as long as the speed isn't thousands of WPM.. but how would you know you're reading the RIGHT 20%?

  6. I learned speed reading in Jr High, yes, I know, they don't have those anymore. Well, I am 58 years old so that should tell you something. We also learned Short Hand, because all girls need to know that if they want to get a job. (yes, that is exactly what they told us) I love speed reading and still use it today!! You explain it way easier than my teacher, and to bad you were't around back then! I highly recommend anyone who needs to read tons of information in a short amount of time to take the time to learn to speed read your way through all those difficult books!! You must also be able to withhold that information in your poor brain, so learn some comprehension techniques as well !

  7. I think what you meant to say was you'll see ME in the next video, not I'll see YOU in the next video. If you see me while I'm watching your next video, I've turned on my webcam by accident 🙂

  8. I read at around 150 wpm. Which is also the same rate that most people speak. I wonder why I read so slowly. HMMMmmmMMM

  9. The thumbnail had Thomas slumped on a couch, as if he was contemplating something. My mind then read the title as "The Truth About Speed Dating". It sounded like clickbait, and tbh was the reason I clicked on it. 😅

  10. In highschool we had speed and comprehension reading tests. I was averaging 800 words per minute with 100% comprehension (there was a whole test after you read the passages). But although i can do this, i can only do it for about 10 minutes before i start to get tired.

  11. Speed reading = glorified skimming
    When looking for specific content or concepts "speed reading" can be a good tool.

    I look at speed reading as a tool to be used and nothing more.

  12. I do 422 words a minute, 210 if I want to remember everything using mnemonics for wording, definitions, and the such.

  13. You can read fast, but do you comprehend fast? Are you able to see relationships between ideas form mental construct fast

  14. I was informed about a speed reading course in college that is in a couple weeks, I was skeptical about signing up, came across your videos, let’s just say you just saved me from spending 400 dollars. Thanks, Great information!

  15. I read at about 550-600wpm, with excellent comprehension levels, but I don't consider it "speed reading". I also don't think there are any quick fixes for reading speed. I got to this speed because I love to read (fantasy/scifi mostly), and I can usually finish a 400-500 page novel in 2/3 hours. I think the most important tip for increasing your reading speed is to start reading things that INTEREST YOU. Over time your reading speed will skyrocket (took me 20 years of reading a book almost every day) and it won't feel like a chore. Attending seminars or paying for speed reading courses is dumb. Literally just read a book ffs.

    After fully watching the video, I agree with everything he says. I realized I instinctively skip a lot of function/connective words and that I've read so many novels that some scenarios/dialogue become predictable, leading me to skim through those portions. I still have about 80-90% comprehension rate but these results are only for non-fiction. For textbooks my speed is probably closer to 450 wpm and reading an uninteresting textbook is like dragging my eyeballs through glass.

  16. I have been on and off looking into speed reading since 2007. By the time i actually am able to read fast, they will have made sd cards that u can download into ur brain instantly. Smh

  17. I love how fast you talk! I can’t stand the slow long winded people that like the sound of their voice! Great video!

  18. I try to read books when I come back home from work on a public transport and sometimes I try to read fast and comprehend at the same time but end up dozing off from a long hard day at work lmao…

  19. i dont know who you are or anything a bout you but you are a very knowledge able gifted speaker. ( anyone who wants to improve his public speaking skills should listen to you and study technique- a nice side job for you in. the future) every video you do have valid information and seems to be presented with techniques from the vast reading you have done in the past. able to get main points and info very well. susan

  20. Thank you! Enjoyed the video! I happened to learn cognitive information processing theory (and others) this semester and was glad to hear it applied.

  21. I just have to say there is such a thing as photographic reading.
    Speed reading and photographic reading are two very different things. This process happens in a different part of your brain than used for reading.
    Flipping through a book as fast as was shown at the beginning of this video is dramatized for both speed and photographic reading.
    We were all born with a sense of photographic memory and when this system was acknowledged and expanded it can accomplish quite a bit. The average speed of photographic reading should be about 1 to 2 page per second, enough for your brain to take a mental image.
    They use this method often for studying. Have a person or persons look at a book without actually readying 5 the words and follow it up by an in-depth test about said book. No, 100% scores weren't very common, but neither were scores below 80%.

  22. I agree with you in respect that it is speaking of speed reading and would love to see a video educating the public on this subject.

  23. Thing is not everyone has the same mind and different minds have the capacity of different things. You may not read or understand text however numbers on the other hand you are great with, or maby you hace impecable fine motot skill but cant math or english. In short, find what you naturally do well, then become the best at it.

  24. What do you think about photographic reading and people with photographic memories who subconsciously process data while going about their day?

  25. Lol brother thanks for this I got obsessed for a while about that subject but then I concluded when i am reading my advance astrophysics and quantum physics ect….. books that it was not smart at all to read fast but actually to read slower and connect info from the books and all the knowledge I have acquired before, and try super comprehend what i am reading and try to understand even more than what i am reading rather than speed reading. I KNEW THAT THEN IT PROBABLY IS B.S ABOUT SPEED READING. THANKS FOR YOUR VIDEOS

  26. When reading contemporary, simple English, my max reading speed is about 475-480 but when I read anything that is 19th century or older, my reading speed plummets to only slightly above average. I tend to have a difficult time comprehending the English so I find myself rereading sentences.

  27. I watched my history teacher pick up a book he had no knowledge of (I did one of my favorite books) and he read 7 pages in a minute. He spoke about details even I didn't pick up the first time I slow read it and he had.incredible detail. Truly the fastest reader I've ever seen.

  28. After the focus video now that one after I realize the speed reading industry was full of clowns.

    Howard Berg claim 25k words a minute.
    An asian woman on youtube 50k words a minutes.

    I was searching for a legit world record holder to look at how he practice.

    Your vids are fire man. You have a page for donation ?

  29. Solution:
    Throw away the book
    Get the audio version
    Listen 2x speed
    No eye movements slowing you down, cuz audition is superior
    Plus you can do it whenever you're bored or doing a repetitive task without significant loss of comprehension.

  30. the difference between 200wpm and 400wpm, considered the normal range, is the difference between 4 hours and 2 hours. it may not seem much, but it's huge.

  31. I was so sure this video would be BS selling speed reading that I passed it up at first. I wanted to see a video that talked about speed reading scams and this didn't disappoint.

  32. You opened up my eyes to the potential nonsense of some speed reading products. Thankyou. Great job.

  33. I see reading as watching a movie , u wouldn't get much out of the movie if u were to leave it on fastforwrd the entire time . Its better to watch it at normal speed to fully grasp the message …thats my analogy

  34. You are talking too hard to catch the points . I'm sorry for that complaint because not all of your subscribers are from the county that uses English as the first language. So I hope you can talk slower in the next videos so that the subscriber who uses English as the second language can understand very well. Thank you and have a good day ❤

  35. Just follow my finger and you might get a little sleepy in that case give me all your money hahahahahahahahahahahahaha hilarious

  36. Speed all depends on what you're reading. Hitchhiker's Guide? Booze right through it. Medical school physiology book (even though I'm not in med school)? 4-5 pages per day (seriously). BUT, I learn SO MUCH in those 4-5 pages. I truly UNDERSTAND the content.

  37. 900 word/mins? Are u joking? Here, my local library offers speed-reading-like training for free. And they said…

    LeaRn HOw tO rEaD 1000 paGEs iN 10 MiNs

  38. I think speed reading doesn't work with Philosophy books..they are just so dense and most of the time hard to just have to take your time it seems. Please, do a video on how to read more hard books! This is the true challenge, I can easily read a book when I come tired from work but not when it comes to philosophy, which is at the same time, what interests me the most.

  39. Loved it! You are really funny and also smart ! Enjoyed the video very much and looking forward to the whole series! Wish it'll help me find some cool tips and tricks to speed my reading and to learn faster !
    Thank you so much <3

  40. I believe that understanding means learning to defend an idea of someone elses (students are taught to defend the experts ideas) and I believe that it is an horrid part of education because too much emphasis is on that type of understanding. Analysis is a much more important facet of education and it is desperately needed in all the population and what we need to be doing and improving at for every idea, event and choice. Analysis of consequence, analysis of the merits or lack of merits of an idea, analysis of which measures are being used to promote the merit or demote the merit of an idea, analysis of which other measures should or could be used to promote the merit or to demote the merit of an idea. All those types of analysis are much more important for living a life than defending the experts ideas.

    In this video the YouTuber uses explanation to point out that some information points to discoveries that many or most people in a couple of studies do not comprehend at a very high level the written material when speed reading and that speed reading is basically skimming and that when skimming readers only pick up a few key ideas and don’t get many details. I think that to speed read we might need to focus on increasing comprehension speed and use the same tests that we would use on ourselves for comprehension if we were reading slowly.

    There are other possibilities too, for instance it may be that speed reading first and then re reading at a slower level improves comprehension and maybe that is the evolutionary reason for the topic of speed reading to be so popular. That is potentially useful if only 1% of those who learn to speed read can do so with a high comprehension of the written material they are attempting to speed read.

    So it is possible that speed reading is a fraudulent industry and most people will not be able to do it with high comprehension, it may be just that only 1% of people will get anything from paying for a speed reading course. We already know how to read so just attempting to change the way we do it to increase our speed and testing how our comprehension is at higher speeds and trying to improve that level of comprehension at higher speeds is probably the best way to do it. Doing that you may find a way to make it possible even if it has not really been possible in the past. A couple of hundred years ago it was considered by some groups impossible to read without speaking the words you were reading out loud. So you never know.

  41. I think when you're reading a non-fiction book try to pick the major ideas. That is where you slow yourself. Some regressions are fine here. But if there are examples or illustrations of those major ideas, that is where you skim. Of course, there will be some other stuff; people call it verbiage, which should be skimmed like crazy.

  42. Your content of your video is interesting and pointed, but it is very fast for me the way you speak and discuss any of your videos and it's a little bit hard for me to understand your point and lessons. Please work for this concern because not anyone is good at english or good at understanding native english.

  43. If I try to speed read something very important, the temporal anxiety sometimes clouds my comprehension to sense the amount of reverence rightly and properly due to or from a work.

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