February 26, 2020

How to read faster and learn better — my takeaways from The Evelyn Wood 7-day Speed Reading & Learning Program book

A new year and new books to read! I thought that it would be smart to use the first month of the year to make the next 11 months even better, so one of the skills I wanted to learn was how to read faster and how to learn and recall better. If I can read faster and learn better, it will save me time when reading books and I will get more out of the books I read (and will have parallel benefits at work as well).

The book was written by Stanley Frank. Evelyn Wood is widely known as the person who introduced speed reading to the masses. Her story isn’t covered in the book, aside from how she discovered the method of speed reading. She had heard a lot about other people who had speed read. She gave her professor an 80 page paper and thought that she would give him the night to read the paper over and give her feedback, but the professor sat down, read the paper almost as quickly as turning the page and then provided to grade her paper. The professor was even able to point out key strengths and weaknesses in the arguments and specific details, which made her realize that speed reading was possible. However, despite meeting with other speed readers, she could not discern how they were able to speed read, aside from the fact that they moved their eyes quite quickly down the page. One day, she tried to speed read outdoors, but found that she was unable to, so she threw her book. When she went to pick it up, she brushed away dirt with her hand and discovered the technique to speed read.

While I’m not a speed reader yet, here are the things that I will be practicing and learning from the book:

Subvocal vs. subsonic reading

I don’t know if this is applicable to you, but I know that it is applicable to me. Whenever I read, I read out the words in my mind. This is subvocal reading. When you read this way (or if you read out loud), you are limited by how fast you can speak. Subvocal reading is quite fast (the author says there is a maximum speed of 900 words a minute), but if you really want to achieve 1 – 2k words a minute (or more), then subsonic reading is the way to go (that is, not vocalizing any words either out loud or in your mind). The way to practice subsonic reading is to ‘distract’ your mind by reading key phrases and statements out loud as you read, but continuing to move your eyes down the page to do the subsonic reading.

Use peripheral vision and your hand to guide your reading

Rather than move your eyes horizontally back and forth across the page, you want to move your eyes vertically. You can use your peripheral vision to ‘see’ more words than the one that you are looking at. The end goal would be to see words as quickly as you can move your eyes down the page. To guide you (and to train your eyes to move quickly), you can use your hands to help guide your eye movement. There are many different hand movements that you can use, but you can use the S movement to guide your hand in a S fashion down the page and guide your eyes. Comprehension at this point will be quite low, but will get better as you start to see more words and move your eyes faster.

Prime yourself with questions ahead of reading

The best way to better comprehend material is to understand what you are reading, why you are reading it, and what you want to get out of it. By ‘priming’ yourself with questions, your mind will start to search for the answers as you read, or at least connect different pieces of information together to help you answer the questions. Contrast this with not priming yourself ahead of time and you may find that you will have to read and re-read before you fully understand.

Use the slash recall method for taking notes

All throughout school, I took notes in a linear fashion. When the professor was speaking or writing on the whiteboard, I was also writing down notes, often word for word from the professor. The problem with this method is that it does not lend itself to understanding or recall. In short, you are trying to memorize the notes by rote memory. A better way is to use the slash recall method. The slash recall method is to draw a slash in your notebook from the bottom left to the top right. The slash represents the main topic. Off of the slash, there are branches which represent sub-topics. In the book, a grocery shopping list was provided as an example. These sub-topics include ‘meat and seafood’ or ‘fruit and vegetables’. Finally, off of these branches are additional sub-branches with individual items. Under ‘meat and seafood’ would be chicken, pork and salmon, etc. The point of the slash recall method is to connect the items through a specific structure and to write down notes based on your understanding and not directly from the lecture. Something else I liked was that the book suggested using different structures for writing notes. For example, the book has a baseball bat and then branches coming off of the branch for notes on hitting a curve ball. This is not only more fun to do than linear note taking (I think), but also a better way of writing notes to understand.


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