SPEED-READING INEFFICIENT

I call them ‘Well, duh’ studies. The research academics have to undertake to prove what anyone with a grain of knowledge and a sprinkling of common sense knew already. This one is about the benefits of speed-reading.

With the information overload that we now all suffer from, the appeal of speed-reading is understandable. Traditionally, it promises faster reading times and greater recall and understanding of the text. However, according to a recent review of the actual science published in Psychology Science in the Public Interest, speed-reading is not the answer the panacea it is sold as.

Elizabeth Schotter, a psychologist at the University of California-San Diego, and one of the study’s authors, says, ‘The available scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy—as readers spend less time on the material, they necessarily will have a poorer understanding of it.’ (well, duh moment #1).

According to the Association for Psychological Science, it’s not about reading faster, but about learning to figure out what’s important to read (well, duh moment #2). In reviewing the scientific research, they said that it proves that the biggest obstacle isn’t our vision but rather our ability to recognize words and process how they combine to make meaningful sentences

In their article they say, ‘Reading is a complex dance among various visual and mental processes, and research shows that skilled readers already read quickly, averaging 200 to 400 words per minute. Some speed-reading technologies claim to offer an additional boost by eliminating the need to make eye movements by presenting words rapidly in the center of a computer screen or mobile device, with each new word replacing the previous word. The problem, Schotter and her colleagues find, is eye movements account for no more than ten percent of the overall time we spend reading. Eliminating the ability to go back and reread previous words and sentences tends to make overall comprehension worse, not better.’

Ms Schotter says there is no quick fix. She and her team agree that the one thing that can help boost overall reading ability, science shows, is practicing reading for comprehension. Greater exposure to writing in all its different forms provides us with a larger and richer vocabulary, as well as the contextual experience that can help us anticipate upcoming words and make inferences regarding the meaning of words or phrases we don’t immediately recognize.

So, keep reading. It’s good for you. But you already knew that. J

You can read the full report at your own pace – if you have the time.

 

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