It’s interesting to think that when we learn to read at school we reach a stage where we are deemed to be able to read and unless we have specific problems we receive no further tuition. This is a shame because if the skills of speed reading were instilled into us at an early stage it would be so much easier.
One thing that normally happens when we learn to read is that we use our index finger to help keep our eye on the word we are reading, but as we get better we are encouraged to stop doing this and read without a guide. However, our eyes do read better with a guide. Anyone who has had to add up a column of figures will know that it helps to have a pen or pencil on the page to aid and guide the eye.
If you want to read faster, one thing you can try is to use some kind of visual guide. A pen will do. Simply move it smoothly along the line of text that you are reading. After initially seeming a little strange you will get used to it. It will help keep your eye focused on the right place because your eye will naturally track a moving object. Over time, you can gradually speed up the pen’s movement and speed up your reading.
There are times when we all find that our memories fail us. Often this happens at the most inopportune moments, such as when we meet up with someone that we have recently been introduced to but simply cannot remember their name.
It might seem depressing then to learn that throughout human history there have been many people who have had prodigious memories apparently beyond the hopes of ordinary mortals. One example out of many is ex-world memory champion Dominic O’Brien who was able to remember the order of every card in 52 shuffled packs. However, people who can perform feats such as these are generally no more intelligent than average and do not have genetically superior memories. They have simply trained their memories to work for them.
If you want to improve your memory, rather than try and remember ideas as abstract concepts, make vivid mental pictures of them, allow trains of thought to link them to other thoughts and memories you already have, use systems such as memory palaces, where you link new memories to specific locations that you are already familiar with and reinforce your memories by returning to them regularly.
Most people imagine that when they read their eyes move smoothly from one word to the next and that when they reach the end of a line they move smoothly to the beginning of the next line.
But when our eyes move relative to what we are looking at, that object will be out of focus. Try it when you are next in a car. Look out of a side window and keep your eye still. The edge of the road will be out of focus and blurry. The eye operates a little like a camera. It is only able to capture a sharp image when it is still in relation to what it is focused on.
When you read, your eye can only focus on text when it is still. This means that your eye moves in a series of jumps and pauses. It is during the pauses that you take in information. These are called saccadic eye movements. There are usually four or five of these per line of text for a normal book. If you learn to control these movements by using a visual guide, such as a pen or your finger, you will speed up your reading.
One of the reasons for using mind maps is to help with making notes of other peoples work - such as books but also articles, lectures, presentations , TV shows and podcasts. In other words any situation where you are hoping to absorb and understand somebody else’s ideas.
In many cases what you may try to do is to write as many notes as you possibly can to ensure that you don’t miss out anything important. However this approach can be exhausting as you will be writing all the time and you might find yourself so focused on what you are writing that you are not really paying attention or thinking about what is being said.
Not everything in the book or lecture will be of equal weight or importance. There is a great deal of redundancy in our use of language. When making notes, you should try to write down only key words and key concepts. These are the ideas that are absolutely essential to the meaning. Try it with this article. Print it off. Go through it and see how many words you can cross out while still retaining the underlying meaning. Whatever is left should be the key words and key ideas.
How well we read is determined both by our eyes and our brains. We are more likely to read quickly and understand what we read if our brain is properly set up to absorb whatever information will be coming our way. Preparing our brains to absorb information is known as priming.
You are probably already familiar with this. If you have a favourite book and you re-read it, you will be able to read it much more quickly and take more in the second, third or fourth time around because you already know what is coming. Although you probably won’t remember everything when you sit down to read it again, you will remember enough to ensure that you get more out of it on subsequent occasions.
If you are reading a new book you can prime yourself in a number of ways. If it is reading for work or a project you can write down what your aims are. This will help you notice what is important as you read. If you have some knowledge of the subject, you can brainstorm that knowledge beforehand noting down everything you already know. This will set up hooks for you to attach new information to. You can also flick through the book at a page a second. This will give you a quick preview of what is coming your way.
Most of us imagine that we read one word at a time from left to right along the page. The situation is in fact a little more complex than that. The physiology of the eye is one factor that can and does limit how fast we read.
Our eyes have a lens which focuses light onto the retina. For text held at arms length, we only see about four or five letters in perfect focus. This represents light falling on the fovea at the centre of the retina. Light falling further away from this central point gets ever more blurry. However, our brains are capable of correcting this blurriness so that our whole visual field appears to be in focus.
Our eyes are capable of recognising images flashed onto a screen for a very short period of time. We can recognise four words flashed onto a screen for a mere 1/500 seconds. However, we can only process about ten separate images a second. This is why TV and film which plays at 24 frames a second seems continuous to us. It is faster than our eyes can process. Some animals such as birds of prey can process many more than 24 images per second. For them, TV and film would look like a sequence of still images.
Strings of numbers are generally difficult to recall. Fortunately, most people now store phone numbers on their mobile phones so there is no need to recall them. However, that means that we have fallen out of the habit of recalling numbers.
It is a good habit to practise memorising sequences of numbers. If you lose your phone it might just save your life! We are more likely to remember numbers if they can be made meaningful in some way. Meaningful numbers might be, for example, your birthday or those of your friends and family, perhaps the number of your house or the year your favourite team won the FA Cup. If you can incorporate these meaningful numbers into the sequence you want to recall, that will make it easier.
For other numbers that don’t have any obvious meaning, you can link numbers to images. Do this by converting a number to letters. 23 would be BC (B being the second letter of the alphabet, C being the third). This might make you picture Bill Clinton. You are more likely to remember the image of a person you know or a famous person than a number. You can do the same for all numbers 00 - 99 and then link these images together to remember sequences of numbers.
You are more likely to recall information if it is meaningful to you in some way. One illustration of this is the effect known as the baker / Baker paradox. You are more likely to recall someone whose profession is a baker than someone whose name is Baker, even though the word is the same in both cases.
When you think of a baker you are likely to think of bread, the smell and taste of it, your local bakery, your favourite sandwich, feeding ducks in a pond with bread and so on. This web of associations ensures that you are likely to remember the profession. Contrast that with the person whose name is Baker. In this case there are no immediate associations.
The more associations with the information that you want to recall, the more likely you are to remember it. So if when you meet someone, you associate their name to information that you are already familiar with, you will be more likely to remember it. If you meet someone whose name is Baker, link it to all of the associations that you would have when you think of a bakery.