Definition of Speed Reading

by Speed Reading Expert, Dr. Richard L. Feldman (Ph.D., Columbia University)


I’ve been teaching speed reading courses in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for twenty-five years. People often ask me about speed reading, and exactly what it is. I tell them that there is no commonly accepted definition of speed reading but that I have my own definition which I use in the speed reading courses that I teach.

Speed Reading: My Definition

Despite the fact that there is no commonly accepted definition of speed reading, I can tell you how I define speed reading in my public, private, and corporate speed reading courses. I tell my speed reading classes to think of speed reading as a collection of reading techniques that will allow them to at least double their reading speed, on average, compared to their reading speed before they took my course. These techniques must also maintain or even improve their reading comprehension.

One of the first things I do in the speed reading class is to help participants determine their current reading speed. They do this by taking two pretests. One pretest is fiction, an excerpt from a science fiction book; the other pretest is nonfiction, a scientific magazine article.

From the two pretests, participants usually find that their reading speed is about 150 words per minute (w.p.m.) in both the fiction and nonfiction pretests. For many participants, then, their reading rates in the fiction and nonfiction pretest materials are about the same. Some find their reading rates in fiction are faster than in nonfiction, and others find the reverse pattern. Nevertheless, the group average for the pretests in almost every speed reading course is 150 w.p.m. Of course, if I used easier material for the pretests, participants’ pretest reading speeds might average in the 250 w.p.m. range, but I like to use material that is challenging and representative of the types of reading that many college students, professionals, and executives encounter each day.

After participants in my speed reading course determine their reading speed from the two pretests, I then ask them to set a speed reading goal, which, based upon my definition of speed reading, is at least a doubling of their pretest reading speed. For many, this means setting a goal to read at least 300 w.p.m. with reading comprehension that is equal to, or better than, the comprehension they typically had before the course. So, for typical students entering my speed reading course, they will be “speed reading” once they achieve a reading rate of at least 300 w.p.m. on a consistent basis.

Once their reading goal is set in the speed reading class, I introduce participants to a variety of speed reading techniques that they can use to boost their reading speed. Many of my speed reading students are surprised at how quickly they pick up the speed reading techniques, and how effective these techniques are. I find that many participants actually read 500 w.p.m. and faster as a result of the techniques they learn in my course. Naturally, they are delighted because this surpasses the reading goal they initially set for themselves in the course.

A common misconception that I find in my speed reading classes is that people assume that speed reading is one specific technique. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some speed reading techniques are applicable to fiction; other speed reading techniques are applicable to nonfiction.

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