Friday, June 27, 2008

Speed Reading - Part II


Before we begin, let me clear some misconceptions that arise due from the term 'Speed Reading'. Speed Reading is NOT about:

1. Pushing your eyeballs to the maximum, to scan reading materials;
2. Reading as fast as possible, all manner of materials, causing you to lose the pleasure of reading certain materials such as novels and poems; or
3. Teaching you on how to obtain a photographic memory.

For me, speed reading is just about reading at an appropriate speed, which depends largely on the TYPE of reading material and the WHY you are reading it. It is designed to help you comprehend better and faster. Although this sounds oxymoronic, this can actually occur because most of us have bad reading habits, simply because no one taught us how to read properly.

However, before we begin on this journey – let us begin by understanding the four levels of reading. The information presented below are largely based on the book ‘How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.

The differences between the levels must be understood so that we are able to improve our reading skills. Each level of reading must be understood before one can move on to the next level. This is because each level of reading is cumulative and forms the foundation to achieve the next level, forming a pyramid shape as indicated in the diagram above.

First Level – Elementary Reading
To master this level, one must learn the rudimentary art of reading by receiving basic training and acquiring initial reading skills. This is ordinarily learned during primary school. I am certain all of us have achieved this level. Yet, even for those who have attained this level, some may have picked up certain undesirable habits such as sub-vocalizing, fixations and regressions. To read about Common Problems in Elementary reading, click here: Part I & Part II.

Second Level – Inspectional Reading
This level of reading is characterized by its special emphasis on time. At this stage, a student might be allowed a set time, to complete a certain amount of reading. Inspectional reading is the art of skimming systematically the material. Here, one attempts the best and complete reading that is possible given a LIMITED amount of time. For more information about Inspectional Reading, please refer to the following Inspectional Reading: Systematic Skimming and Inspectional Reading: Superficial Reading.

Third Level – Analytical Reading
At this stage, reading is a complex and systematic activity. This requires a thorough and complete reading. Unlike inspectional reading, analytical reading attempts the best and complete reading, given an UNLIMITED amount of time. The reader here, must ask many and organized questions. Since this is an intense activity, it is NOT REQUIRED for all reading. It is used only when you require an in-depth understanding of the particular book you are reading. For a bird's eye view of Analytical Reading, please click here.

Fourth Level – Syntopical Reading
The most complex and systematic type of reading, also requires the highest skill level. The reader must read many books and place them in relation to one another and to the subject at hand. Not only must he compare and contrast between these books, he needs to do much more! He must SYNTHESIZE the materials he has read, and reach observations and conclusions, that are not available in any of the books he has read.

With an overview of the four levels of reading, we can now explore them in subsequent posts. We shall identify, how best to improve our reading techniques, systematically at each level.



Thanks fo this sharing this, Avatar.

The benefits of reaching the highest level are obvious. Imagine, at that level we can not only digest information at a great rate but able to "slice, dice, contrast and compare" between books. The skills are outstanding for technical info and academic subjects. But would it be off- putting when you are reading a novel for example? Yes, you can read fast. Yes, you can understand great but can you truly enjoy reading the book? Can we take pleasure in playing out the scenes described in our mind? Having acquired the skills, do we become just accumulators and reservoirs of information? Would acquiring these skills 'snuff out' our abilities to have fun? Can we just read a book to enjoy our ourselves?I guess we must always have a balance but as we go through the course, let's keep in touch with our more 'feel good' feelings and see how they are affected.




Good comments and I'm glad you've shown such enthusiasm towards speed reading. As to your question, perhaps an analogy would be instructive.

Imagine you are driving a car. Now, most car have four gears, ranging from the 1st gear to the 4th gear. How fast you are driving would largely depend on your purpose of driving.

Therefore, when you are reading a novel for pleasure, it is akin to sightseeing, coasting along the countryside enjoying the view. Would you be driving using the fourth gear? Probably not. You may be on the 2nd gear, going slowly to enjoy the view.

Conversely, if you were rushing for work, you may be on the fourth gear, going fast to avoid being late for work.

Driving is similar to reading a book. You must ask yourself, what is the purpose for reading the book? If it is for enjoyment, you may abandon these techniques and just relax and have a good time.

On the other hand, if you are reading for academic purposes, it may be good to use some of these techniques to improve your comprehension and speeed.

Never forget YOU are always in control as to how fast or slow to read. Speed reading is a technique that assists you to speed up your reading, only if and when you decide to.

Yet, it is good to develop good reading skills. Why?

I would like to quote from 'How to Read a Book'.

A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised. As Thomas Hobbes said, "If I read as many books as most men do, I would be as dull-witted as they are'.


Avatar, your analogy assumed we can slip in and out of speed reading as and when we like. Using your analogy of driving a car, let's just say that if a person have been driving at 150 km/hr, I think it is going to be extremely difficult for him to slow down and start driving at 50 km/hr unless there's a jam or cows (and I don't mean just the 4-legged ones)on the road! But since the proof of the pudding is in the eating,I will try out the methodologies that you have taken so much trouble to cull from the book and see what happens.




Hmmm... I haven't thought about the possibility of someone being addicted to speed reading such that he can't stop reading so fast.

Ok, your suggestion is sound. Let's cross the bridge when we get to the river.


Thanks for sharing, Avatar.

I do belive that reading is the frist step on the thouthands miles of enlightment way to go.



Nice of you to drop by. Come and visit every Friday as I have several posts scheduled on speed reading.

Yes, I couldn't agree more with you on reading.


I tend to like speed reading but seem hard to digest the term here :) too used to IT term.


Dear Simon,

Don't worry so much about terms. You just need to understand the meaning and how to apply them.

This post is just an overall summary. The detailed explanations are in latter posts.

If you have any questions, just comment and I'll revert to you on it.


Max Weismann

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we are Encyclopaedia Britannica’s exclusive agent for these programs.

We have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost and are now available.

For those of you who teach, this is great for the classroom.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:


With regard to speed reading, I've found this web program to be helpful as well. I wish more people would realize the helpfulness of speed reading programs. In addition, I appreciate your keen insight on the subject.

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