055: Reading Comprehension > Speed

Nov 28, 2021

This post was inspired by a question about how to improve one's studying skills, which was put to me by a learner during one of the Master Flexibility Trainer support calls that I host twice weekly.

During the conversation, I told the group I finish at least one book per week - not a novel or self-help book, but a full, 500-page-plus academic textbook.

However, I also told them, perhaps to their surprise, that I do not speed read.

Speed reading is the name given to a collection of techniques that can, so proponents of these methods claim, allow a person to read up to 1000 words per minute ('normal' speed is around 200 wpm).

There has been a fetishisation of reading speed in the past decade, owing in a large part to the 'life hack' subculture, which sees self-professed speed readers brag about the number of books they finish in a year.

Perhaps I'm becoming more sceptical as I approach middle-age, but I find many of the advertised numbers dubious, and there is no doubt that comprehension suffers as a result.

Learning to speed read is appealing because we are often told by motivational speakers and entrepreneurs that reading is the key to a better quality of life, and this is actually the part of their message with which I agree.

I also believe there are some occasions when being able to rapidly skim a text is beneficial.

However, more is not always better, and it's not the number of books you read that will help you achieve your goals. Rather, it's the ability to understand the information contained within a book's pages and apply it in a way that brings value to the lives of other people.

Stop beating yourself up if you're a slow reader, or if you subvocalise - or even if you speak the words out loud!

What matters is you are reading, learning, and growing.

If given the choice, I would pick being a slow reader with great comprehension over a fast reader with poor comprehension every single time.

By the way, if you're wondering how I manage to finish a full textbook each week when I am a slow reader, the answer is simple - I devote a lot of time to reading, usually about 7 hours per day (but don't try to compete with that number - read as much as your life circumstances allow).