On speed-reading

James E. Mattson | 01/22/2016

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John F. Kennedy was an avid reader. As a young man frustrated with a reading speed of fewer than 300 words per minute, he trained himself to read more quickly by increasing the number of words—“thought units”—he could read and absorb at a glance. As president, he read somewhere in the vicinity of 1,200 words per minute.
JEM author imageEvelyn Wood, co-founder with her husband of the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics course—taken by staffers of the Kennedy, Ford, and Carter administrations—discovered that reading faster actually increases retention. Clocked at reading speeds of 6,000 words per minute, she could devour a 689-page version of Gone With the Wind in less than an hour.
The Roosevelts were known for their speed-reading. Theodore Roosevelt is said to have read one book every day before breakfast and three books per day. To increase both reading speed and comprehension, Franklin Roosevelt would glance at a page and turn it before pausing to consider what he had read.
Inspired by news reports of President Kennedy’s reading prowess, one of my eighth-grade teachers—a native Bostonian transplanted to our small town in northern Wisconsin—gave us a timed reading test. Using the honor system, I came in at 450 words a minute. Maybe that’s why she named me editor of the school newspaper.
Ever since, I have sought to read and absorb information as quickly as possible, often imposing on myself a mental “Time’s up!” in an attempt to force myself to read faster. I don’t claim any speed records, though, or assert that I retain everything I read, but my lifelong habit of trying to increase reading speed has certainly aided my ability to do so and proven helpful when reviewing a daily flood of emails.

I do make exceptions, of course. Just as I change my driving speed to accommodate changing conditions, I also vary my reading speed. For example, I don’t read as quickly when signing crucial documents. I also don’t speed-read when editing, although reading a manuscript quickly does help me identify material that should be positioned elsewhere in the text or eliminated altogether. And just as chewing one’s food more slowly contributes to healthy digestion, there are times when word rumination is warranted. That’s why my wife, Mary Ellen, and I often read books aloud to one another, usually from our Kindles. It promotes discussion, and we know we’re on the same page.
As Carrie Sue Halsey reminds us in her recently published “How do you solve a problem like millennials?” things change from generation to generation. I haven’t seen a TV commercial for an Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Dynamics course in a long time—classes used to be heavily advertised on TV. Now they have apps that help increase your reading speed—Spritz, Accelareader,and Outread, to name a few. And for competitors among us, find out immediately how your speed compares with the U.S. average by taking this Web-based test.
Busted for speed-reading—sort of

JEM_video_embed_SFWYou may have seen it on a recent TV news program. A driver in Eagan, Minnesota, USA, is stopped by a police officer not for speeding, but for distracted driving. Seems he was reading a James Patterson novel he just couldn’t put down. A form of speed-reading, I suppose—he was reading, and he was driving at highway speed, albeit 15 miles per hour slower than normal traffic flow—but definitely not a good idea and certainly not one to emulate.
It isn’t speed-reading, but here’s an idea on how to get RNL content fast: To receive links to the most recent articles, register for email notification or RSS feed, and then focus on your commute. The links take you directly to new content, so you won’t have to waste time looking for it. Choose one of the following options:
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James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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