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Is Speed Reading Possible?

Is Speed Reading Possible Olga Khazan The Atlantic


Some forms of what we call “speed reading” are actually skimming -- the reader saves time by not reading every word on the page. And skimming might be useful, in some cases. If you’re pressed for time, it might be preferable to skim the entire text rather than to read linearly through just part of it. A 2009 study found that skimmers did not remember very many details, nor could they make inferences from the text. But they did remember the story’s most important ideas better than those who tried to read normally but didn’t finish the piece.

But most research points to the opposite conclusion: As speed increases, comprehension deteriorates.


In the World Championship Speed Reading Competition, top contestants read about 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute, but they only understand about half of what they take in. One study of 16 high-performing people, including self-proclaimed “speed-readers” found that none could read faster than 600 words per minute while understanding at least three-quarters of the information.

Keith Rayner, a psycholinguist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told me that he thinks “all speed-reading claims are nonsensical.”

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