I used to think that speed reading wasn’t really possible and you were either born with the ability to read fast or not. However, I’ve come to realise that with the right technique you can improve your reading speed without compromising much comprehension.
I began exploring speed reading during my preparation for the UCAT, I am a natural slow reader so it is no surprise that I found the UCAT verbal reasoning section the most difficult. I dedicated a lot of time working on my speed at reading passages and statements. However, I noticed that it came at the expense of my comprehension and retention of the information I read. Even though I was able to “increase” the speed at which I was reading the passage I noticed when answering questions I found myself regressing a lot, i.e re-reading the passage. This obviously wasn’t a feasible approach for the UCAT as I was wasting more time. It was this problem that lead me down the path of speed reading and in this article we will look at one of the ways to improve it for the verbal reasoning section.
To understand speed reading you need to understand the science behind how the eyes works when you read. I don’t want to dive into that now as it’s beyond the scope of the article, but the key thing to take from this is that the technique I’ve suggested is scientifically proven to increase speed reading.
It is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)
In rapid serial visual presentation, words are shown one-by-one in quick succession, rather than being all on the page in a block of text. It’s easy to be skeptical that something so simple would have such a big effect on reading speed, but studies have shown that using Rapid Serial Visual Presentation helps increase reader’s reading speed because it trains the brain to stop reading out loud inside their head (subvocalization), and suppresses the tendency for eyes to backtrack the line while reading and searching for the end of the sentence.
During preparation for the UCAT, practice using tools such as Spreeder to read articles or non-fiction texts online. I challenge you to read articles and texts through this tool for a whole month. Pay attention to your inner voice, work on suppressing it, avoid saying each word after one another. Once you’ve finished reading a text summarise the text in your own words. Once you start to get better, break down the text into only keywords.
Rapid serial visual presentation does have its downsides, though. For one, paying attention to text displayed this way can be tiring. Then, there’s a thing called “attentional blink,” where if the words are presented too quickly together the brain will skip a beat, missing some of the text. However with enough practice you will be fine. At the time of writing this article I’ve improve my reading speed from 200 words-per-minute (wpm) to 325 wpm.
Start at 200 wpm (or the speed you feel comfortable and comprehension is roughly 100%) then work on increasing it, ideally you want to reach 300 wpm for the UCAT.
For more ways to read faster checkout the video below from Thomas Frank. He shares 5 other ways to read fast.