I took a speed reading course quite a while ago. I think I’d watched a movie where a character read books like the pages were on fire, and I had to give it a try. I have to admit, I am pleased with the results. No, I can’t scream though a book about quantum mechanics in a few minutes, and I’m not blasting through novel-length material in minutes either. But it did have a dramatic impact on my reading speed and I can comfortably get through most novels in a couple hours.
I’m not going to explain all the techniques I learned. I’m not qualified to teach it, and I am not sure I could condense the material into a few sentences :\. But if you take a course or two, I’ll say that the most helpful techniques I learned were: silent reading (how to stop saying the words in my head), and how using movement and peripheral vision can reduce eye-fatigue. Another thing I learned was that reading speed is a range. When you read technical material you go slower than if you’re reading a magazine article about the latest Hollywood breakup. Knowing some techniques raises that range, but it’s always a range, so any test of reading speed is directly related to what you’re reading.
With that in mind, I don’t power through novels when I read them either. I like to spend a bit more time with the words. But magazine articles, or online opinion pieces I read to kill time whist waiting in a doctor’s office, those I can read pretty quickly. A couple times when a book was discussed in a book club, I did push myself to get it done on short notice, but I find I miss some of the intricacies of the language and some of the subtle plot points if I go too fast. Point is, it’s a useful skill, and I actually encourage people to learn a few of the techniques.
Just for kicks, here’s a link to a reading-speed test that you might find fun. I suggest approaching it the way you read a novel. Don’t try to race through it. A brief quiz after the piece tests your comprehension and doing the test twice will skew the results (since it’ll be your second time reading the piece and comprehension will be better).
HERE: Click to take the test
Have any of you guys taken a speed reading course? Did it help? Oh, and FWIW, when I took the test and read the piece at the speed I read novels, it said I was reading just under 700 wpm. But again, material makes a difference (digital vs. print makes a difference too). I'm not going to read Macbeth that fast, or even anything by Dr. Seuss for that matter - those guys were poets, they almost demand to be read aloud!