Speed reading is a technique used to improve the ability of reading quickly. The most common methods of speed reading are known as skimming and meta guiding. The technique is usually taught through training programs, including books, software, videos, and seminars.
Skim reading is when you take the main ideas from the reading material without reading all of the words. The term skimming comes from the act of skimming milk, when the dairy farmer skims the cream – the richest material – from the top of the milk before it is processed. In essence, skim readers look for and seize upon words that appear to give the text the most important meaning. Readers skim when time is short or when they need to understand the general ideas but not the particulars of an article or book. Skimming occurs at a higher rate (700 words per minute and above) than a normal reading rate (around 200-230 wpm), and due to this reason the reader’s comprehension of the text begins to decline, especially with information-rich reading.
In contrast to skim reading, meta guiding reading entails the use of a visual guide to increase the reader’s focus and, therefore, the reading speed. Meta guiding is commonly done by tracing the hand across the line of text whilst reading, which speeds up the visual cortex and increases the visual span to take in the first line, and even imprinting the information into the reader’s subconscious for later retrieval. The reader will then effectively direct their vision and swiftly progress through the text. Another method of Meta guiding is made by using a single finger or a pen to underline words as they are read – with vision and finger progressing simultaneously. The technique has also been claimed to reduce subvocalisation (internal speech made when reading), thereby speeding up reading.
Speed reading can be vastly improved by the use of computer software designed to help instruct speed reading students. Many programs present the data as a serial stream, since the brain handles text more efficiently by breaking it into such a stream before parsing and interpreting it, whilst other programs require the reader to view the centre of the screen whilst the lines of text grow longer. Also, the text is sometimes highlighted to indicate where users should focus their eyes – they are not expected to read by pronouncing the words, but instead to read by viewing the words as complete images. Interestingly, the world’s fastest speed reader, Anne Jones, can read 4,700 words per minute with 67% comprehension.