Two Time USA Memory Champion, memory training expert and memory keynote Ron White shares his thoughts on how every learner should develop the comprehension skills speed reading enhances to become a more efficient reader.

When we read we use different methods for different subject matter. For instance, when we read a geometry book we read at a slower rate that we would if we were reading the bulleting board. Because the material is more technical you want to soak in the information and sometimes that requires going back over it again. With the bulletin board you read over the notes quickly until something catches your eye that you may want to write down or remember. In both cases you are trying to comprehend what you are reading, just in a different way and at a different speed.

We take in a great deal of information through reading on a daily basis. How we read can be accomplished in one of four ways, all of which are used in speed reading techniques:

  1. Skimming – running your eyes over the text in order to get the gist of the information
  2. Scanning – looking for specific pieces of information
  3. Extensive Reading – long pieces of text, usually for the pleasure of reading – like a novel.
  4. Intensive Reading – reading for detail, usually done in short paragraphs at a time because the material is more difficult to take in.

We may use just one of the above styles, or all of them, when reading an article. For example, when reading a research paper you may skim over the material until you find the area you are looking for, scan for specifics within that area, and go into intensive reading when you are trying to remember the fine points. If you find you are interested in the text further, you may resort to extensive reading.

Although reading is an “active” process it is most efficient when done “silently.” Not all text is read at the same speed, as indicated above. When we read our eyes do not usually follow each word.  A Speed reader will learn to focus on all the words on the page, but train their eyes to take in more of the area.  We tend to skim over words or expressions, go back if we think we missed something, and sometimes go forward to see if we are correct in our assumptions.

When we read aloud you actually prevent ourselves from developing efficient reading strategies. Our brains have been trained to see the word,  say the word, and then process the image -– like when you read the word “train” aloud your brain translates it and then visualizes it. In speed reading you eliminate the need for the brain to process the word.

Consider the text as a whole – title, pictures, diagrams, text, font, etc. Skim through the text the first time to see if your assumptions are correct. Ask yourself questions about what you have taken in, then read the text again more slowly and carefully – trying to answer the questions you had when you skimmed the article the first time.

When trying to improve study skills and become more efficient readers, teachers often encourage the students to time themselves on what they read, little by little increasing their speed.

Speed reading courses help to develop the reading efficiency by timing the exercise, then presenting a quiz or comprehension exercise to test how much they retained. Students should keep a record of their results to show their progress.

Predicting what is to come next is a skill to develop. Becoming aware of the function of the text is important to comprehension. Students should try to think ahead, to what the text is trying to tell them. They can even try to predict what comes next, or the conclusion, then go back to review their hypothesis later. Ask questions about the text as you are reading – and even write the questions down. If you run into an area that confuses you, write it down to reference it later. Associate what you read with what you already know.

Making use of non-linguistic elements – like how the page is laid out, the way the writer forms his sentences, what the photos say about the article, give clues as to the point the writer is trying to make.

Take notes! Writing down the key ideas in your own words will help you remember, and reminds you to check up on things you don’t understand as you are reading. Using your own reactions and ideas when taking down notes will help you to understand and remember them later.

Write a summary of what you read. The summary should be an accurate account of what you read, without the emotions.  Reading comprehension is about your ability to assess and evaluate what you have read. In order to do it properly you need to understand the writer’s intention when he wrote the piece, including any bias. Be astute at discerning fact from opinion.

There are speed reading courses, such as the one I coach, that will help you to develop your reading efficiency and comprehension. They will not only improve your grades in school and with test taking, but help make your professional life easier to manage, and improve your memory.


Reading Study Skills by Bonny Bucknam:

Cambridge Language Teaching Library – Developing reading skills: a practical guide to reading comprehensión exercises By Françoise Grellet:

Time for Learning: