Speed ​​Reading: How It Works and Why It Makes You Study Better

Speed ​​Reading: How It Works and Why It Makes You Study Better

To understand if the browsing works we have to start a few thousand years ago.

Hardly anyone knows that all forms of alphabetic writing, at least up to the Middle Ages, had no punctuation and no word separation; that is, they were in the form of the continuous writing.

For example, the following verses of Virgil:

I sing the arms and the hero of Troy, who is the first from the mouth
Lavinia, a fugitive from fate, arrives at the shores of Italy…
(Virgil, Aeneid, I.1)

In the original version of the book of the Aeneid you would have found them like this:


Almost indecipherable, right? They seem like a satanic message. If you have studied Latin I think you are already shivering at the thought of having to make versions from a text of this type.

And in fact, to orient oneself in this succession of graphic symbols, it was almost indispensable read aloud, in such a way as to "try" the text and see if it ran. There subvocalization, that is, the process of reading minds, was for this reason almost unknown.

And a passage from the Confessions of St. Augustine is famous (at least among enthusiasts) in which the latter is amazed that Sant'Amobrogio was able to read minds!

Thus the result of the graphic confusion of scriptio continua, and the lack of mental subvocalization, was that even the most ingenious of the ancients were probably unable to read more than a hundred words per minute without losing understanding of the text.

The half that is than what any modern student is able to do in the first grade. And the average (of those few who could read) must have been around 50.

So imagine how much time you save per day compared to an early medieval monk!

Now, I believe that if around 1000 AD someone had claimed that it was possible, through a series of ARTIFIZES (such as detaching the words and putting points and commas !!) to double or even triple the reading speed, they would have taken him for a madman or a sorcerer.

And in fact this is exactly what happened to Giordano Bruno a few centuries later, when he was burned at the stake for heresy, but also for the fame of a magician that he had obtained thanks to the art of mnemotechnics of which he was a master.

The fact therefore that we now read at about 200 words per minute because at school they taught you that it doesn't mean you can't do much better.

In the rest of the article we will talk in more depth about quick reading, but if I had to remember ONLY ONE THING of this entire post I would like it to be this:

Always be skeptical and critical of what they teach you in school, because it is typically a very conservative environment, that is, closed to novelty.

While history has taught us that, in principle, everything is constantly changing and can be improved upon (or worsened ...).

To understand the evolution of speed reading, then, let's take a good leap to the twentieth century.

Fast reading and tachistoscope

During WWI and WWII it was very common for pilots to be shot down by the so-called friendly fire. It happened that the ground anti-aircraft, not distinguishing very well the signs of the planes, tended to shoot at anything that moved, often shooting down their pilots.

Thus began to do a series of exercises with a tool called tachistoscope:

on a transparent surface they were projected, in front of the anti-aircraft men, smaller and faster images of planes of different nationalities. And they had to recognize them at a glance.

In short, it was about being able to distinguish and understand graphic signs faster and faster, exactly as you do in quick reading.

The result of these exercise sessions was a monstrous increase in performance aircraft recognition, both in terms of speed and in terms of accuracy, and began, in the postwar period, research on rapid reading applied to learning.

If you want to test your speed reading skills, try this online tachistoscope

And if you go there and try to use the tachistoscope, you will surely notice that with it your normal reading speed, which is 200 words per minute, it seems very very slow!

And I also believe that with the tachistoscope you would have no difficulty reading at 400 words per minute, which is about double that. Incredible fact, if you think this is your first time reading at that speed.

In fact, just to disprove those who do not believe in speed reading, the tachistoscope is no longer used in the war field, but in the clinical field for treat reading disorders in dyslexic children, and for rehabilitate patients with certain types of acquired neurological deficits.

Now the rapid reading partially simulates what is done with the tachistoscope, and it does so in several ways:

  • makes you go from word to word faster
  • it forces you to stare at it for less time
  • it shows you several words at a time and not just one
  • forces you not to go back and reread
  • improve your subvocalization process by making you exclude certain words (when presented in groups)

If you are interested in using the tachistoscope method, there are some apps that for example allow you to pour a text into a tachistoscope software, which then presents it to you again at the speed you set.

I've tried a couple of them, and even if it makes sense to maybe install one on your phone, there are three main problems in my opinion:

  • the words are presented to you automatically, it is not you who "look for" them with your eyes
  • you don't frame the punctuation well
  • you don't see words in their natural context, i.e. the page (paper or electronic) of a book (or site).

So the tachistoscope certainly makes sense as an exercise in a clinical setting, but in the study it loses part of its effectiveness: in fact, for the reasons seen above, it damages both the understanding that memorizationand, in the latter case, for example, by not exploiting the so-called photographic memory, which helps so much to remember texts (it will surely have happened to you, while recalling information, to think "this says it in the page where the photo is X; "" this is the first point of the demonstration, but I have before my eyes that there are 3 others ", etc)

With specific quick reading exercises (some very simple like this 3 minute quick reading exercise) it is possible to do on a book page what tachistoscope and speed reading apps make you do, among other things with better results.

Now, established that the browsing works, you may wonder if it is worth learning. So let's see what are the advantages of reading faster.

Advantages of browsing

# 1 Process any material faster

Textbooks, e-mails, blog posts ... Processing quickly, for the first time, any written material is one of the fundamental steps of an effective study method: it guides you quickly and allows you to select what is useful and what is not And.

And it is thanks to the quick reading that you can process an entire book in a few hours: of course you will not have learned it all, but you will have a clear idea of ​​what you need to learn. And if you can combine skimming techniques with quick reading, you can truly become a superstar.

# 2 You memorize better

Memorizing is a complex activity, essential for passing exams but also for carrying out any cognitive process.

Memorization is perfected to the maximum thanks to memory techniques, but it starts from the first reading of the text.

Many write that with quick reading you learn less because you lose "things" along the way. In my experience that's not true at all, unless you read too quickly.

The normal reading speed, being not very stimulating for your brain, it often makes you go on autopilot: the eyes roll on the page but you are with your head elsewhere.

Do you know what multiplies your study skills and saves you a ton of time? Mental concentration. And therefore rapid reading is precisely one of the study strategies indispensable for all those who lack concentration, and who tend to get distracted when they study.

If you go faster then, reading becomes active and you increase your concentration, losing a lot less things along the way.

Of course, if you read too quickly at some point it also makes your memorization worse. But the purpose of speed reading is to let you find the optimal reading speed for each type of text.

# 3 Increase your understanding

Same speech as the previous point. Speed ​​reading is one of the strategies that takes you to the optimal level of concentration to understand a text: using it you are forced to remain attentive and receptive, precisely because it is an active reading process. And therefore you understand a lot more things.

# 4 You change your mindset

Anyone who exercises in the gym or in a sport knows what I mean by this point.

What do you think of a guy who, on the first day of the gym, lifts 20 kg, and after a year is still there lifting 20 kg?

Or that for some reason does not want to improve, or who wants to do it but he trains badly!

Training our brain is, in some ways, like training our body. If you do not increase the difficulty of the exercises (the so-called "loads") you do not increase your abilities.

Speed ​​reading forces your brain to strain a little harder as you speed up: it is therefore a antidote to mental laziness, and an incentive to always improve.

Conclusions on quick reading

Our species has recognized symbols for 2 million years, but writing and reading have a few millennia  of history. The fact that in these few millennia, thanks to technical and technological changes, we have managed to greatly increase our reading speed, makes me think we will do it again in the future.

Maybe one day we will take a pill, like in the movie Limitless, and we will be able to "photograph" entire pages in our mind, remembering and understanding everything.

(Watch the trailer, it's a cool movie!)

In the meantime, learning speed reading techniques seems like a great option to me: you can get good results with little effort and big results if you apply yourself a lot with more advanced techniques. In any case it will be worth it. A greeting. Anthony.

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