Speed Reading: Does it Work?


If you’ve ever had to read for work, a class, or even chosen to read for pleasure, you’ve probably pondered the idea of reading more quickly. Some of you have probably even attempted to speed read; however, maybe you hesitated because you were scared that you would skim over some key information or miss out on the author’s tone and the emotion behind the piece. Or if you’re anything like me, you are intrigued by this talent but have no idea how to do it or where to begin. These are all valid worries and, luckily, speed reading has been a large topic of interest to researchers around the globe for decades.

What is speed reading anyway?

According to Bernice Leary’s article on speed reading, the goal of this technique is not simply to read the material quickly or how many words and pages you can read in an hour. Leary argues that speed reading is all about, “Aiming for the ‘speed of comprehension’, ‘speed of organization’, ‘speed in using the index’, etc..” It is important to remember that while the goal is to read more material in a smaller amount of time, we must focus on the comprehension, organization, and understanding of the material as Leary speaks about. Without comprehension, there is no point in reading the material in the first place.

When should you use this technique?

Before diving into learning the “how to’s” of speed reading, it’s also extremely important to understand why you should speed read and when it is appropriate to use this technique. In many cases, speed reading can actually do more harm than good. In Milena Tsvetkova’s article, The Speed Reading is in Disrepute, Tsvetkova discusses that the use of this technique may be the thief of knowledge and how the advantages of reading more slowly often outweigh those of speed reading. For instance, in a study discussed in Tsvetkova’s article, people who used speed reading remembered: “too little of the perceived information, because the messages [were] generally submitted chaotically, fragmentary, [and] out of any logical order or structure.” According to Tsvetkova, this is because, “The physiological truth is that the visual analyzer perceives the letter, the word only when it stops, and when the eye is fixed.” These gaps in cohesive sentences cause the reader to comprehend less information and read blindly, but, despite these negative outcomes, there are still instances in which speed reading is beneficial. For example, it is still a helpful technique to use when you have a general idea of the topic at hand and you do not need to comprehend too much of the information, like when reading for a review. Mostly, the question of when speed reading is appropriate is a complete judgment call.

So how do you do it?

According to Daniel Reisberg in “Cognition: Exploring the Science of the Mind”, it is possible to teach people to speed read, and it is actually quite easy. Reisberg claims that speed reading is not about reading faster, but instead about skipping more words in the material. In turn, you are not reading faster but reading less, and there are four steps to this process:

  1. Girl, Books, School, Reading, Learning, HappyFlip through the text quickly, look at the figures and figure captions, read the summary if one is provided, and gather a broad sense of what the material is about.
  2. Rely on inferences, not word-for-word ideas.
  3. Use your finger or an index card to guide you down the page. Make sure to use it to lead you instead of following it exactly.
  4. Don’t move too quickly. If you realize you don’t know what is going on, slow down.

Even though there are advantages to reading quickly, I believe that I will stick to reading more slowly in order to make sure that I understand the material I am reading on a deeper level. I will probably only try this technique if I have an enormous amount of reading to do in a short period of time and keep Leary’s tip in mind too, “only read materials that can be read speedily” like topics I am familiar with or things that are not of much importance.



Reisberg, D. (2016). Cognition: Exploring the science of the mind. New York: W.W. Norton &.

13 thoughts on “Speed Reading: Does it Work?

  1. blogmatt21

    This is comforting to read since I have been known to speed read. I try my best not to speed read because I do worry about missing details. However, sometimes I do speed read.

  2. mhook

    I am very guilty of speed reading because of how much reading I have to get through in a day. Most of the time, I will skim through the words in search of the important material, but then once I find it, I have to go back and slowly reread everything because I didn’t comprehend anything that I “read” before. It is a very interesting point that speed reading isn’t about the amount of words/pages read, but the speed of understanding that material, since most people would agree that they are justing trying to get through all the pages.

  3. abalgoyen

    This is interesting to read because I never thought that speed reading could ever be beneficial or ever work for someone. Everytime I have tried to speed read if I forget about an assignment or if I quickly reread over notes before a test I never can remember anything. I have stopped doing it because it does not work for me. One way that it has helped me some is that I may recognize a word better but not necessarily know the meaning of the term.

  4. nboigegrain

    I find it impossible to speed read, so your blog post was particularly interesting for me to read. I have tried in the past to read quickly because it would save me a lot of time, especially when I am reading material that I already have a good knowledge on (thank god for psychology classes overlapping), but it literally stresses me out. I get really anxious about missing or misreading something and whenever I do it I always find myself going back and rereading it because I am so uncomfortable with the process. I wonder if the difference in whether or not people speed read is due to their personality. Because I know I have a very Type A, perfectionist, pretty much OCD type of personality and I have a hard time doing anything quick. It would be really interesting to see whether or not people with OCD, or just have a strong Type A personality, can be trained to speed read and how that training process and the results of it differ from those who don’t have OCD or have a Type B personality.

  5. thares

    This is rather interesting. Sometimes I have found myself reading way too quickly in the textbook and then taking a step back and realizing that I have no idea about what is actually going on. The idea of speed reading is more about reading less than reading quicker is interesting. I agree that this skill should only be used when you are really knowledgable about the information or if you just want to get the gist on something. I don’t think that this skill should be used at a time like studying because I think you could miss too many key points of information.

  6. kmarston

    This was really interesting to read about, because I consider myself to be a really slow reader. In sixth grade I almost went to a summer class to learn how to read faster. Often, I’ll try to read a passage quickly only to find that I retained absolutely nothing. Then I’ll have to spend more time re-reading the passage to ensure that I understand it. Dr. Rettinger brought up in class that the preliminary cause of slow reading is the “voice in your head.” I remember as a kid asking my mom whether she heard a voice in her head when she read and she responded that she did, but it didn’t make a difference in her reading. Comparatively, I’ll often take time to sound out words, make different voices for different characters, or maybe re-read a sentence because I didn’t read it in the correct tone the first time. Even when I’m reading for class, I have to slow down and make sure that I understand every single concept and reason each sentence out for myself. What my friends can complete in 30 minutes, I finish in an hour. The only time I’ve ever found myself able to speed read, is when I’m rapidly skimming a piece of literature simply to identify key words. Your post was helpful for me to read and I’ll attempt to implement it the next time I need to speed read something for a class. I appreciate the idea to aim for speed of comprehension and perhaps this can finally teach me what I missed out on in that summer class so many years ago.

  7. rachelremer

    I enjoyed this post because I read really slowly and take in all the material and I have always wondered if I could learn how to read faster but still understand the material as well. I first thought speed reading could help me with reading faster and still maintaining the same amount of information as I would when I read slower, but now I know that speed reading should only be done on topic I’m familiar with or am comfortable with and maybe it is not needed after all.

  8. chayes

    This concept is so fascinating. I have seen speed reading in movies but never thought that it was a thing. The fact that there are steps on how to do this makes it even more real! As being on the track to becoming a teacher, we learn to take our kids on a “picture walk” which is going through the book and looking and the pictures before we read. Its not speed reading to this extent but it is in a way. It so fascinating that you were able to find evidence on something that most people wonder if it can be done! Good Job!

  9. sspitzer

    Very interesting! I have always been the one who struggles with comprehension and feel that I am only a successful reader when I read material out loud, slowly, and thoroughly. However, I always feel the urge to speed read the material to only get to the end and realize that I have really not retained any of it. It is interesting to see that speed reading isn’t really about reading at a fast past, but more so skipping words in the material. Thanks for sharing!

  10. mocooper

    I used to speed read a lot when it came to reading for school but half the time I did it I would retain very little of what I had read. I never realized that there was a right and wrong way to speed read and looking back, I was definitely doing it wrong. I’ll keep those tips in the back of my mind for the next time I have to read a lot in a shorter period of time.

  11. alee9

    I wrote about speed reading as one of my blog posts. In my research, I found that speed reading tends to be detrimental for actual comprehension because it suppresses the subvocalization that naturally occurs during the reading of a given text. Forcing yourself to read faster is certainly effective when you’re up against a hard deadline, but it seems best not to risk losing important details if you have the time free.

  12. sdwashburn

    I have tried to speed read in the past, especially right before a class or right before I would be quizzed on the reading. But as the research shows, it always came back to prove that I really put myself at a bigger disadvantage rather than doing some of the tips that you provided, such as reading the smaller pieces of information in the book. This is an extremely helpful article and is a great way to show that maybe our tricks that we use are really just us tricking ourselves.

  13. mvera

    I thought this post was really interesting especially the part where you said that this task may be easier if you already have a general idea of the topic. I am honestly the worst at speed reading because I usually just skip over the important information and have to go back in the end. But its nice to know that when performed correctly it can be helpful in some cases especially if I need to read a large amount in a short amount of time.

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