As someone begins the journey to learn speed reading immediately speed takes center stage. The learner knows something must change, and engages in exercises to move the eyes more efficiently. This initial approach is sound up to a point. However, the learner can often get overwhelmed and frustrated and then give up the process and return to the old inefficient patterns. In this article I will put the quest for speed into proper perspective.

If you have done any research on the topic of speed reading you are probably familiar with the most common limiting habits of inefficient fixations (the number of words the eye takes in for each stop), regressions (the back-skipping of the eyes), recovery time (the inefficiency of moving from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line), and subvocalization (the saying and hearing of the individual words before the mind recognizes meaning). These inefficient habits must be broken to achieve speeds in the thousands of words per minute range. Specific eye pattern exercises must be used to break these habits and learn more efficient patterns.

The approach many programs take is to gradually speed up your old linear process, that is, by expanding eye span over the horizontal axis moving from left to right. They may even stretch your eye span to six or more inches across the page, which is beyond the normal clear focal area of the eyes of 1-3 inches in diameter. Little attention is give to the vertical axis - seeing words above and below a particular line in your visual field. If you start your speed reading development at 250 words per minute, they might then stretch you 300, then 400, then 500, and so on.

This approach is doomed for failure. It fails because it does not use normal eye focus and because it merely speeds up what you already are doing. You may get some results, but it won't be the radical permanent change you seek. Eventually you will probably return to the speeds you started with.

Another reason that approach fails is that it keeps the reader using primarily the left hemisphere of the brain only. It does not adequately re-train the brain to see and understand print in new ways. Learning to perceive the material differently is key to achieving lasting dramatic results. Changing perceptions is all about comprehension. Comprehension is about your mind's interpretation of the visual stimuli, or the print.

Effective speed reading is not about seeing "groups of words," it's about understanding thought units, groups of meaningful symbols. These meaning units may be spread across several lines, not just left-to-right. Too much focus on eye-span and speed of eyes is not effective reading in itself. Practicing over the same material from slow to faster and faster passes will not change how the mind perceives comprehension. It is a misleading approach.

You can certainly train the eyes to see tens of thousands of words per minute. This type of practice requires the speed reading student to use both the vertical and horizontal axis of the sight experience. This visual approach uses what is called dimensional sight. All sight is dimensional in that at normal reading distances you can easily see the print one to three or more inches on both the vertical and horizontal axis.

The beginning speed reader using this approach starts practicing at thousands of words per minute. This radically different approach causes the brain to shift gears and begins to engage both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere sees and perceives more globally and thus interprets in idea chunks, not merely individual pieces and individual words. From here, the learner gets the larger context of the material, and the comprehension process begins to shift.

The faster a reader grasps concepts and ideas, the faster assimilation of facts, details and specifics can begin. Approaching reading in this manner dramatically and permanently changes how the reader comprehends.

To master speed reading takes practice and even more practice. You are in fact retraining your brain and creating new neuro-networks. The results I described earlier does not take place immediately with one try. You must re-train your brain.

Another pitfall for beginning speed readers is not differentiating between practicing the skills and applying the skills. Practicing should be done with great intensity and to the point of overloading the brain somewhat. Like most physical training, speed reading training needs to be practiced with pushing and stretching. Call it mental conditioning. For speed reading training higher and higher speeds are essential to success. However, after the push and stretch, there needs to be time for consolidation. When practicing speed reading, a helpful tip is to reflect on what you have just seen. Give the mind a moment to reorganize what the eyes have seen.

Applying speed reading skills means that you back off the full throttle that you pushed during the practice session. If you are applying the skills means you want to use the skills and comprehend at the desired level to meet your purpose. If you are well conditioned, you will see the mind will absorb much faster. But you have control over the accelerator. Remember to "play" with the accelerator and don't lose control when applying.

In closing, learning to speed read does require lots of proper speed training. Don't look to gradually speed up what you already do. Transform your approach. It is more effective to start with extreme speeds and then decelerate to a level that is more comfortable. Speed is important, but so is comprehension. A real speed reader, when applying the skills, does not have a sense of rushing, but is fully mentally engaged with the material.

Author's Bio: 

Ed Caldwell is the creator and publisher of the "Masters Online Program: Dynamic Reading, Memory, and Recall" and other live and web-based learning programs. As former National Director of Instruction and Certification for the world famous Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics program, Ed has 30 years experience teaching and testing new strategies to help people from all walks of life learn to read more efficiently. Trainer, speaker, and writer, he can be contacted at He is the creator and president of Productive Learning Systems, Inc, and, Inc. You can learn more at and download the free eBook, "The 10 Top Mistakes When Learning Speed Reading."