Posted by: William | January 15, 2008

Speed Reading: The Verdict

Ten days ago I started following the day by day lesson plan of a little book called 10 Days to Faster Reading, by Abby Marks-Beale and the Princeton Language Institute. The original post can be found here. The purpose of the book is pretty well summed up in the title. Yesterday, I finished the program.

So, William, are you a faster reader now than you were before you started? The short answer is yes; significantly. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

The Book

I’m generally not a fan of books that make huge promises and claims in the title (i.e., Your Best Life Now). I always expect them to read like an inaudible infomercial. “In only fifteen-minutes a day, you could be on your way to so much money you’ll want to puke!” The cover of our current book, while modest in its design (purple, white and black), reads in a manner that’s difficult not to hear in the voice from the guy on the Oxy Clean commercials. If you can’t tell, self-help type books don’t generally sit well with me. However, despite my judging this book by its cover, it proved itself in its pages.

The book stays largely academic; something I appreciate. Where many books in its genre sound something like a hokey life coach speaking, this one sounds more like a patient, caring school teacher. The book is divided evenly into ten chapters. The chapters generally focus on breaking old habits and forming new ones. Each chapter includes a benchmark to test your speed and comprehension. Each day introduces you to some new techniques to help build speed and comprehension and encourages you to practice those techniques, then of course to try the techniques you’re comfortable with on the next benchmark.

The beginning of the book focuses mostly on the bad habits we form when we first learn to read. Marks-Beale gives some helpful advice for breaking those habits; advice which I will attest is surprisingly effective. Things such as not reading to yourself out loud or in your head; that one I found especially effective. As she presents some helpful hints for breaking those habits, she also offers some useful techniques to replace those habits. Pacers, key-wording, reading between the lines, are among them.

Toward the end of the book, she starts to move away a bit from the academic topic and more into, what feels sometimes, like out of place life advice. For example, how to prepare for a board meeting you weren’t ready for or how to determine what emails you should and shouldn’t read. Per Ms. Marks-Beale’s advice, I skipped these sections altogether.

My Experience

On day one, I was reading at 185 words per minute, at 70% comprehension (technically a slow reader). Newly aware of my bad habits and actively trying to implement good habits, by day two, I was up to 220 words per minute with 90% comprehension (just barely making the cut as an “average” reader.) Clearly by the second day I was seeing results. Throughout the program, I fluctuated with my speed and comprehension because of experimenting with different techniques, but finally I ended at 345 words per minute with 70% comprehension (finally a “good” reader). At nearly twice my original reading speed, I’d say that the program was a wild success.

Each chapter Marks-Beale shares a new “pacer” method to help speed up your reading. Of the many offered, I felt the most comfortable using the white card method. The idea is to use an index card to keep track of where you’re reading. The only difference here is instead of placing it, in the traditional way, under the words your reading, she suggests placing it above the words your reading. This helped stop me from rereading things I’d already read. It also helped stop me from day dreaming.

Another technique she suggested was to read between the lines. As ridiculous as it sounds, it ends up working shockingly well. Much of the idea of speed reading comes from the thought that we can read word chucks, not just words. Every time our eyes stop, our mind picks up information. The more information you can pick up on one stop, the faster you can read; it’s reading with your peripheral vision. Reading between the lines is literally just that. Instead of placing your eyes directly on the words you’re reading, look right above them at the white space. This helped me to stop focusing on specific words and pick up more information in one glance.

My eye span I think is my biggest problem. I don’t confidently pick up as much in my peripheral vision as I probably could. The solution to that? Exercise. Throughout the book, there are various eye exercises to help expand your eye span; helping you become better at picking up more information in one glance. One problem, however, was that the exercises weren’t really adequate. They were often too short and once I memorized them, I wasn’t really gaining much. However, this has not been a problem thanks to a great program, Ace Reader, which Marks-Beale suggests in one of the later chapters. The program is full of tests to help build speed and comprehension, but most helpful, I think, are the games to help expand your eye span. The program alone I think would be insufficient to dramatically increase reading speed. Ace Reader is available for 30 days free from their website; then $49.95 if you want to keep it.

As a whole, my reading clearly became faster in the ten day period. I definitely learned some great new techniques for reading faster, which will only open the roadway for me to continue to improve my speed and I became aware of some really bad habits that were blocking me from reading faster. I would say this book lives up to its title and anyone who will stick with this reading program will almost definitely experience an increase in speed and comprehension. You’ll have to stick with it though!

Kudos Abby Marks-Beale; you’ve written an effective and useful book!


10 Days to Faster Reading from
Original Speed Reading Post


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