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Thursday, October 30, 2008

IELTS TIPS: Tips For Improving Your Reading Speed

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The purpose of this section is to teach you how to increase you reading speed. Shortly we will be adding a section for reading BETTER as opposed to FASTER.

We all have a capacity for reading much faster than we typically do. Our reading speed changes as we go through life. When we are in high school, we go through about two hundred words a minute. We get to college and, because we have to read faster due to more time constraints and a much greater amount to read, we read faster. Most people in college average about 400 words per minute. Then we get out of college, and now we don’t have to read so fast. There are no longer time constraints, and we can read slow and easy. We find ourselves dropping back down to about 200 words per minute.

Think of reading like you do a muscle, the more you read, the better you get at it, the faster you’re going to read. And we have a great capacity for reading faster. We aren’t even scraping the surface of how fast we can read. You see, we have 1,000,000,000,000 brain cells. In fact, the inner connections, the synapses, in our mind are virtually infinite. It has been estimated by a Russian scientist that the number of synapses we have would be one followed by 10 million kilometers of zeros. Our physical capacity for reading is beyond our comprehension. Our visual unit has the capability to take in a full page of text in 1/20 of a second. If we could turn the pages fast enough, our brain could process it faster than our eyes can see it. If we could turn those pages fast enough, our eyes have the capacity to read a standard book in six to twenty-five seconds depending on the length of the book. We could take in the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in one hour. So reading 700 - 1,000 words a minute is easily within our reach.

The key to improving our speed is to SIGHT READ, and that’s what we are going to show you how to do. We are going to start being pure sight readers. Obstacles get in our way, however. What do we mean by obstacles? Well, these are things that impede us from reading faster.

REGRESSIONS are the most wasteful. Regressions are going back over words. You can call it back-skipping if you want. You go back over words you previously read. People do it for two reasons. Initially we read it to clarify the meaning of what we’re reading. We want to be sure of the words we read as we go along. In our early years in school, when we were first taught - incorrectly - to “read slowly and carefully,” it became easy to go back over words.

Well, this not only slows you down, it causes you comprehension problems. For instance, lets say you have a sentence, “The man jumped over the log.” Well, if you back-skip, you read that passage like this: “The man jumped,” “the man . . . jumped. . . over the log,” “jumped over the log.” So, what your brain is processing, “The man jumped,” “the man jumped,” “jumped over the log.” Our brain is used to processing our flaws, so the brain thinks, “OK, I know what this clown is saying, “The man jumped over the log.” But this takes time to sort out. And it’s confusing. Think how much easier it would be if you simply took the sentence in in one sight, “The man jumped over the log.” There’s no confusion there. Then you move on to the next phrase. Regressing or back-skipping is the most harmful thing we do to slow our reading speed.

Our second obstacle is that we have BAD HABITS that we pick up. Bad habits manifest themselves in a number of ways. For one, you’ve got people who have MOTOR habits as they read. These are the people who are tapping a pencil when they read, tapping a foot when they read, moving a book, flicking their hand, etc. If they’re sitting next to you, they drive you nuts. But they are the people who have to be moving while they read.

Some may even move their lips. If they do that, they’re kind of edging over into another bad habit where we find AUDITORY readers. This is the bad habit that we have that is the hardest to drop. Auditory reading is difficult to beat because we are used to reading and hearing the words in our minds. Some people even go so far as to mumble the words. You can see their lips moving sometimes, or you can even hear a guttural growl as they go through the words.

The other obstacle are the FIXATIONS. Fixations are the actual stops or pauses between eye-spans when the eye is moving to its next fixation point. We can’t see while the eye moves so you do need the fixation points to see. The problem is, most people fixate word by word by word. They stop their eyes on each separate word. The fixations slow you down because you are stopping on each word.

The problem that comes up here is this that, like the other obstacles, it impedes concentration and comprehension as well. The paradox with reading slowly is that it really hurts your concentration.

Research has shown a close relation between speed and understanding. In checking progress charts of thousands of individuals taking reading training, its been found that in the vast majority of cases, that an increase in speed reading rate has also been paralleled by an increase in comprehension. The plodding word by word analyzation actually reduces comprehension.

In this day and age, our brains are used to constant stimulation. Television, radio, even people talking to you, provide constant stimulation. So when we are reading along slowly and carefully, it’s kind of like watching a movie and we encounter a slow motion scene. The slow motion scene is kind of interesting at first because the movie has been moving along at a rapid clip and now we have a change of pace. We’ve got the slow motion scene of the guy getting shot or the couple running across to each other across a field, and the mind initially says, “Oh, this is cool. This is something different.” After a while we get a little impatient and we’re ready for the guy who got shot to hit the ground, or the couple who are running across the field to finally get to each other. We start thinking about other things..weve lost our focus on the movie.

The brain does the same thing when we read. The brain is getting all the stimulation it normally gets, then we hit this patch where you’re reading slowly. And boom, the brain says, “I don’t like this. I think I’m going to start thinking about something else.” And the reader starts thinking about the date they had Saturday night or the date they hope to have Saturday night. And therefore, you’ve got another impediment to comprehending the reading correctly.

OK, what do we do? Well, there are several things we are going to do to increase reading speed. First of all. we are going to increase the EYE SPAN. Eye span is the number of words that you take in as you look at the words. In other words, if my eye span is just one word, I am going to move from word to word to word. If my eye span is two words, I am going to move along twice as fast. If my eye span is three words, three times as fast. If I am moving along in phrases, I’m flying along pretty good.

That’s where you increase the rate of eye span. You also want to learn to work in THOUGHT UNITS. Thought units help you move faster. This is where you group the words according to context. For instance, lets say you have, “He said something.” It’s easy to put that in a phrase, then you move to the next phrase. If I had this sentence, “It’s safe to say that almost anyone can double his speed of reading while maintaining equal or higher comprehension.” If I want to read that in phrases, “It’s safe to say that almost anyone…….can double his speed……..of reading while maintaining…….equal or even higher comprehension.” You move much faster that way.

So, we are going to increase the number of words we see and we are going to group them according to context. One of the key things that we are also going to work on is RETURN EYE SWEEP. When you get to the end of the sentence or the end of the line on the written page, if your eye meanders back to the other side, you have a chance to pick up words. If you’re picking up words and you’re sight reading, that can be confusing. So you want to dramatically, quickly, forcefully, go from the end of one line to the beginning of the next one. Using a fingertip or pen as a pointer is a great way to quickly and directly to the next line.

The other thing that helps us increase our speed is CONFIGUATION. As you read faster and faster, you’ve got to learn to rely on your increased recognition of how words are configured, how they look, as you do it. In other words, “material” looks different than “response”. “Recognition” looks different than “perceptual”. The words have visual configurations. As you learn to read faster and faster you learn to pick up on the configurations and, as you do better and better, your skills at this improve with practice.

So, we are going to have no REGRESSIONS, no VOCALIZATIONS, and increased EYE SPAN. That’s the way to true sight reading. How do we do this?

First, we avoid the problem areas. We avoid the limited eye-span by expanding the number of words that we take in. We get rid of regressions and we get rid of the return eye sweep problem by using a pointer. You can use a pen, a pencil, even your finger. That gives you a point of focus for your eyes. It helps you focus on the page, and you move faster because you can dictate how fast you are moving across the page. Your eye will follow your finger, or pen, or pencil.

Absolutely stay away from the vocalizations. You have got to be a sight reader. You have got to read fast enough so that you don’t have time to hear the words. This way you are comprehending simply with your eyes.

You also need to keep in mind that you don’t always read at the same speed. If you’ve got a car that will go 120 miles per hour, you’re not going to drive that care 120 miles per hour in a shopping center. You’d get killed and get a heck of a ticket. But you may, on a highway when you are passing a car, get it up to a high speed. When you are in that shopping center, you are going to be driving about 30 miles per hour.

It’s the same thing with reading. This is specifically addressed in our Better Reading section. But you must learn that you speed read in certain areas and there are other areas that may be particularly dense, that may have something that’s particularly confusing to you, when you will need to slow down and read in shorter phrases, smaller groupings of words so that you can comprehend it clearly. It may be a particularly dense passage where each word has great deal of meaning. It may be even an unusual or specific word.

Let’s look at what we’ve got to do to practice it. The big step here is to simply read faster. It sounds like such a simple statement, it almost sounds stupid. But it’s what you have to do. You have to focus on “I’m going to read faster,” first.

Comprehension comes later. Practice reading without a great concern for comprehension. In clinical terms, we call this the comprehension lag. It takes the mind as many as ten to fifteen days to adapt to the new reading rate.

You are going to go through periods, practice periods, you can’t use on school books, but it’s a practice period where you are simply adapting to reading that much faster. Comprehension lags for a while but when it catches up it makes a stunning difference.

A good place to practice this is magazines or newspapers. They have narrow columns that almost make a perfect thought unit. You can almost go straight down the column, taking that finger and puttting it in the middle of the column and moving it straight down the page. You will be stunned how soon you will be able to improve and comprehend what you are reading that way. You find that it’s quick. It’s easy reading.

Originally published at

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