Speed reading is not magic

Speed read rate Adjustment

Poor results are inevitable if the reader attempts to use the same rate indiscriminately for a-1 types of material and for all reading purposes. He must learn to adjust his rate to his purpose in reading and to the difficulty of the material he is reading. This ranges from a maximum rate on easy, familiar, interesting material or in reading to gather information on a particular point, to a minimal rate on material which is unfamiliar in content and language structure or which must be thoroughly digested. The effective reader adjusts his rate; the ineffective reader uses the same rate for all types of material.

Rate adjustment may be an overall adjustment to the article as a whole, or an internal adjustment within the article. Overall adjustment establishes the basic rate at which the total article is read; internal adjustment involves the necessary variations in rate for each varied part of the material. As an analogy, you plan to take a 100-mile mountain trip. Since this will be a relatively hard drive with hills, curves, and a mountain pass, you decide to take three hours for the total trip, averaging about 35 miles an hour. This is your overall rate adjustment. However, in actual driving you may slow down to no more than 15 miles per hour on some curves and hills, while speeding up to 50 miles per hour or more on relatively straight and level sections. This is your internal rate adjustment. There is no set rate, therefore, which the good reader follows inflexibly in reading a particular selection, even though he has set himself an overall rate for the total job.

Overall rate adjustment should be based on your reading plan, your reading purpose, and the nature and difficulty of the material. The reading plan itself should specify the general rate to be used. This is based on the total "size up". It may be helpful to consider examples of how purpose can act to help determine the rate to be used. To understand information, skim or scan at a rapid rate. To determine value of material or to read for enjoyment, read rapidly or slowly according to you feeling. To read analytically, read at a moderate pace to permit interrelated ideas.

The nature and difficulty of the material requires an adjustment in your rate to conform with your ability to handle that type of material. Obviously, level of difficulty is highly relative to the particular reader. While Einstein's theories may be extremely difficult to most laymen, they may be very simple and clear to a professor of physics. Hence, the layman and the physics professor must make a different rate adjustment in reading the same material. Generally, difficult material will entail a slower rate; simpler material will permit a faster rate.

Internal rate adjustment involves selecting differing rates for parts of a given article. In general, decrease speed when you find the following:

  • Unfamiliar terminology not clear in context. Try to understand it in context at that point; otherwise, read on and return to it later;
  • Difficult sentence and paragraph structure; slow down enough to enable you to untangle them and get accurate context for the passage;
  • Unfamiliar or abstract concepts. Look for applications or examples of you own as well as studying those of the writer. Take enough time to get them clearly in mind;
  • Detailed, technical material. This includes complicated directions, statements of difficult principles, materials on which you have scant background;
  • Material on which you want detailed retention. In general, increase speed when you meet the following:
    • Simple material with few ideas which are new to you; move rapidly over the familiar ones; spend most of your time on the unfamiliar ideas;
    • Unnecessary examples and illustrations. Since these are included to clarify ideas, move over them rapidly when they are not needed;
    • Detailed explanation and idea elaboration which you do not need,
    • Broad, generalized ideas and ideas which are restatements of previous ones. These can be readily grasped, even with scanning techniques.

Keep your reading plan of attack flexible, adjust your rate sensitivity from article to article. It is equally important to adjust your rate within a given article. Practice these techniques until a flexible reading rate becomes second nature to you.


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