Q. Can people actually speed-read?
A. Yes, but speed-reading has drawbacks, says Mitchell Nathan, a professor of educational psychology at UW-Madison. Speed-reading courses teach techniques for guiding the eye across and down the page, and although that does raise the words-per-minute rate, "it's extremely effortful to use this technique. You may read in 30 minutes what I can read in two hours, but then your system has to recover for a while, and you can't engage in much intellectual activity that involves the written word."
Even though college students are a major market for speed-reading courses, Nathan says speed-reading is unsuited for "reading for deep comprehension, which is required when we read to learn something."
Many readers get bogged down reading every word, even those that tell us what we already know, but speed-reading is not the only solution. Instead, Nathan suggests skimming and scanning, which helps a reader take advantage of structure in the text. "In many fields - journalism, law, science," Nathan says, "the text follows a familiar template, and the reader can skim through the familiar parts and concentrate on the difficult parts, and then do the deep reading when that's needed. I think students benefit if they can learn to mix their modes, because for much of what we do in the academic world, speed-reading is not very helpful."
- Produced in cooperation with University Communications
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