Does Speed Reading Work?

Does speed reading work? Or is it just a mystery?

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A few years ago, when I heard about speed reading for the first time, I dipped straight into photo reading. This reading style promises a reader to be able to read 25,000 words a minute by snapping a photo with its subconscious mind. Wow, that sounded really inspiring. I instantly jumped on, read a book about it and applied the techniques. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I wanted.

So, does speed reading work at all? Could I’ve done better?

Maybe I had been too greedy; simply wanted to read at the top speeds only a few people were actually capable of. Although photo reading does work with classic methods such as previewing, reviewing or recalling, it was the 25,000 words promise that really logged me in.

This could have been the reason why I failed to go further. I wasn’t reading faster than before, because I only looked at speed rates and didn’t understand the bigger concept of fast reading. I finally dropped practicing as I questioned whether speed reading does work at all.

I was pretty wrong and should have known better. Skill comes with practice. And back then I missed my daily exercise.

Another reason why photo reading didn’t really work out for me was the technique itself. The method is a kind of advanced reading technique I simply wasn’t ready for. To increase my reading speed and comprehension I needed something more profound. Something that would collect me on the level I was currently reading on. And that approach finally helped.

My answer to the question ‘Does speed reading work?‘ is therefore Yes.

As a student, however, you will have to find a suitable speed reading course and material to keep you learning for at least a few weeks or months. Why? Because a good course starts with easy techniques and prepares for the more complex ones. The latter will take time as the brain needs to adjust to the new way it shall process information. Read an introduction here.

I started a course, bought a book and committed to daily practice. I also understood why I should do those exercises. Now, I can read faster; and it happens without magic. Speed reading does work and I could have achieved higher reading speeds much earlier when I had stuck to simpler methods. Therefore:

3 Things to Make Speed Reading Work

1. Skip unachievable promises.

It’s possible to increase pace and comprehension within a short period of time. Effective techniques such as using a pointer tool, previewing, asking questions and reviewing are easy to learn and immediately eliminate a few bad reading habits.

However, to learn reading bigger chunk of words you will need to practice. The brain has to get used to it. I read one word at a time before I started my course. I then learned to read two words, but now I can read five words at a time.

I don’t think I have finished my journey yet as I could learn to read whole sentences or paragraphs in one go. This requires a few more skills I wasn’t aware of. Fast reading cross-links with memory skills, visualizing or learning languages at all.

2. Learning for life.

Knowing a second language is an admirable goal and when I started learning one I thought two years of studying and I got it. Today, I know learning a second language is a rather ongoing project that will never be completed.

This experience turns out to be crucial for effective reading. The better I know my language the faster I can extract information from any material. I wished I really had paid more awareness to pre- and suffixes, synonyms and conceptualizing many years ago. Conceptualizing helps me to transform words into images at higher speeds. Hence, it allows reading a text like a movie.

3. Implement techniques in daily life.

I must admit it took some time to really work out a daily practice schedule or to apply reading methods in real life. For example, I practiced suitable methods, but as soon as I finished them I switched back to normal reading. I forgot to use my index finger as a pointer tool or didn’t preview articles. I read word by word though I had practiced word group reading just an hour ago.

It also took some time to shorten the gap between realizing I was reading as usual and switching to accelerated reading methods. It still happens today, but now I am also used to apply fast reading techniques straight away. What really helps is practicing daily.

Does Speed Reading Work? – Conclusion

If we let all those fancy promises aside and look at efficient reading as a pool of techniques to apply, then speed reading does work. To me, the phrase is misleading anyway. I’d rather see it as an effective way to go through books quickly and extract the main information as fast as possible.

I then try to ingrain what I have learned because otherwise, it does not make sense to read a non-fiction book in the first place. No matter it would be in a slow or fast way. There is no mystery here.

Further Reading: Speed Reading Software Review

Does speed reading work? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons FlickR/Jared


  1. Guilherme Mesquita says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I’m going through the process and you just mentioned everything I’m facing right now. I want to focus on chunk words at this point, and the link on Hops is great!

  2. Yes it works :)
    I’ve started a few weeks ago and I’ve already improve from 200wpm to 360wpm. I’m exclusively training in a foreing language. In French, I’m around 450wpm.

    Congratulation for your blog, it is really interessting .

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