Don’t Look For The Magic Pill. Spead Reading Fails

Speedometr as a speed reading

Some time ago I’ve said that speed reading doesn’t work.

Interested why?

Here we go …

The first popular speed-reading course was introduced in 1959 by Evelyn Wood.

Let’s fast forward the time up to 57 years.

The noise around speed reading

In early 2016 New York Times, Business Insider, The Guardian, Psychological Science, and others made a noise. They stated: “Speed reading doesn’t work”.

Lifehacker published “the truth” about speed reading early 2014 basing on the same research and meeting with one of the researchers – Keith Rayner.

The “So Much to Read, So Little Time” publication was the reason for that.

What does it mean to be the fast reader?

Just to understand. Most of us tend to read at about 200-400 words per minute. It’s the good result. Try yourself.

Speed readers claim to hit around 1000-1700 words per minute.

Do not forget the certification preparation context we are talking about. We suppose to read to comprehend. It’s not the reading for pleasure.

The reading process

Reading is the three step process:

  1. Fixation – focusing on a single word and it’s meaning.
  2. Saccading – the movement to another word.
  3. Processing – keeping in mind the whole thought / part of a sentence to understand it.

Firstly, we have anatomical reasons to throw out absurdly high reading rates. In order to read, the eye has to stop at a part of the text, this is called fixation. Next, it must make a quick movement to the next fixation point, this is called a saccade. Finally, after you jump a few points, the brain has to assemble all this information so you can comprehend what you’ve just seen.

500 words per minute it’s almost the peak for us.

Secondly, working memory constraints are at least as important as anatomical ones. The brain can hold around 7± 2 “chunks” of information at a time.

Speed reading techniques

So, how to be with those tasty speed reading techniques (skimming, meta guiding, Rapid Serial Visual Presentation, and others) that are so widely advertised to shorten your preparation?

The idea of speed reading is to read faster!

What exactly speed readers do?

  1. Shortening the time fixation on a word. They tend to do this by cutting down on subvocalization (the speech we hear in our heads when we read).
  2. Skimming to glance through the text to find important parts to read. For instance, focus only on the beginnings of paragraphs and chapters. You will not  remember that many details when you skim.
  3. Using a finger (or a pointer like a pen) to guide their eyes to specific words to decrease distraction and focus on the specific words.
  4. “Read” multiple lines at once by expanding their peripheral vision.
  5. Concentrate on a single word at a time which flashes on the screen (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP).

The biggest obstacle, science shows, isn’t our vision but rather our ability to recognize words and process how they combine to make meaningful sentences.


Speed reading is working. You can read faster. You’ll need to sacrifice your comprehension.

That’s it 🙂

Reading is a complex dance among various visual and mental processes.

Your certification preparation can be easier. You need to understand how your memory is working, be in proper conditions, organize the study accordingly, read prep guides efficiently, use mind friendly tools (Pomodoro, mind maps), stay focused, avoid common mistakes etc.

Be clever.

Think about before buying / using speed reading software, taking courses, reading speed reading books. It may be useful to read your emails or list of web sources when preparing the blog post 🙂 when you are not supposed to understand everything.

In my honest opinion, the skimming may be a good idea for those who already have a lot of experience, certificates, familiarity with the topic just to have the idea on the domains, what the vendor think is important etc.

You can’t skim while preparation to the certification exam as questions will be detailed. It won’t be as Woody Allen jokes “I read ‘War and Peace’ in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia.” You can’t “trade-off between speed and accuracy”.

I’m practicing reading for comprehension. Enrich vocabulary, as well as the contextual experience. It’s not just an issue for reading in your non-native language. It also matters for technical documents or prose which uses unfamiliar vocabulary.

There are no magic shortcuts when it comes to reading more quickly while still fully understanding what we’ve read. As there is no magic pill to become thin. Have you ever seen bodybuilders massively eating fast food on the beach and stay in shape?

I’ll seriously think to take some speed reading course only in the case when the graduates will massively passing CISSP, CISM, CEH, … with 1-week preparation.

So, what is the purpose of your reading?