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Which Is More Important, Reading Faster Or Comprehension?

Aug 17, 2007
It is an almost instinctive reaction to think that reading faster equates with comprehending less. Empirical evidence, however, seems to indicate otherwise - individuals who read at slower rates are just as likely not to fully comprehend what they have read as those who read too fast.

Consequently, trying to find an optimum between the speed you read at and the overall comprehension you have of the material is the key to good reading skills. What follows is a brief look at how you can try to optimize your speed reading and comprehension at the same time.

Speed and comprehension

It should be the goal of every individual who wishes to read efficiently to understand what they are reading, learn from it, and then move on. Reading should not be an activity which we linger over. In this regard, it is generally accepted that someone who can read between 250 and 300 words per minute is an average reader. Those who read less than 250 words per minute are slow readers. And those who read more than 500 words per minute are speed readers. However, there comes a point when reading too fast would make you lose your comprehension.

If that's the case, what should be the optimum speed? Only you can tell because you'll need to test it out yourself and try to stretch it as much as possible. Different people will have varying levels.

If we accept that these reading rates are fairly standard, it should be the aim of every reader to be reading more than 500 words per minute but at the same time, not to lose comprehension.

Why is reading faster important anyhow?

The reason why it is generally considered important to read with at least some modicum of speed is because it is clear that, as is the case with a reader who reads too fast, a person who is reading slowly most probably does not understanding what it is that they have read. Here, it is generally accepted that a slow reader is unable to retain the information that /he has just read in his/her memory. In other words, by the time they have completed the sentence they have read, they've forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was about!

Improving your speed: Improve your comprehension

Having read the above, if you believe that you need to increase the rate you read at, with the aim of furthering both your speed reading and comprehension skills, the following are 5 brief tips to help you further your reading skills:

1. Check your eye:

One of the most commonly cited (no pun intended) reasons why people have problems reading at high speed is because they either cannot see clearly what it is they are reading, or that they suffer from headaches if they read too much, for too long. If you feel these symptoms may be affecting your reading abilities, it may well be worth having your eyes checked, as there is a chance you may be suffering from some form of eye defect.

2. Read in comfort:

Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. If you make reading a chore, you will have problems comprehending what it is you are reading. On the other hand, don't make your reading environment too laid back - you may find then that you just want to go to sleep! Adapt your environment (for example, chair, lighting, etc.) to maximize your reading pleasure.

3. Reading material:

It is very important that you keep in mind what the material is that you are reading. If you are reading the latest blockbuster novel, there's every chance you can read faster, and comprehend more, than would be the case if you are reading the text book for your next exam. As such, it is always useful if you keep the old adage "horses for courses" in mind.

4. Try to avoid talking (vocalization):

Many of us enjoy [lip] talking (vocalizing) out the words of our reading material as we read it. This actually causes an obvious problem: we can read faster than we can talk! So, if you find that you have the habit of talking when you read, try to cure this habit and you may well find that you increase the speed at which you read.

5. Block-reading and re-reading:

As we grow older, we should be able to develop the skill of "block-reading". Essentially "block-reading" means that you have the ability to read more than one word at a time; for example, you can read whole paragraphs in one go. This skill is enhanced by training your eye to broaden its span so as to take in more. Likewise, re-reading, or regressed reading as it is also known, is a habit you should try to eliminate.

Generally, studies indicate that readers who read 250 words per minute (the 'average' reader) regress/reread material on a page up to 20 times. Essentially this regress/rereading has two major faults:

(i) it means you are not comprehending what you have read the first time; and

(ii) it is utilizing valuable time you could be using to read more.

As such, eliminating both of these habits is considered good practice.


Developing speed reading skills at the expense of comprehension is counter-productive. Ultimately, the comprehension of what you are reading is achieved not by reading fast, nor by reading slowly, but by reading at your optimum speed.
About the Author
Melvin Ng teaches speed reading through his 16-Minute Speed Reading Audio Program
which Guarantees to Double your reading speed in just 16 minutes! http://www.best-speed-reading-course.com
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