Monday, May 21, 2018

Notes on Speed Reading

A friend of mine recently responded very favorably to my concern that I read pretty slow for someone who wants to do well on the LSAT.  He researched some speed reading apps and found one written by some people in Minsk.  He's been playing with it, his wife loves the exercises, and I've been playing around with it too.  With his help and some prodding from the app itself, I've discovered a few things about myself which I imagine are true for most people.

When we read, we have a tendency to pronounce the words we read in our heads, our "mind's ear" if you want, and that takes time - time we don't need to use that way.  If you successfully suppress that tendency, you can read faster.  I see two reasons behind this.  First, you're not waiting for the pattern of sounds in the word you just read to finish playing in your mind before playing the next one, and second, you're not using any mental energy to form those sounds in the first place.

There is an important third element to this that I have not heard of or read about anywhere.  This third element is actually forming the meaning of the word we just read in our mind.  Obviously, we have to do this, but I hadn't recognized it as a discreet step until I played with this app ("Speed Reader" by "Speed Reading Team").  Normally, we let the squiggles on the paper (letters) become sound patterns (words) and then the sound patterns give rise to the meaning.  The trick is to feel the meaning come without waiting for (or even allowing) the sound pattern to come.

It is difficult to ignore the meaning
of a few lines of text even if we don't
read them in a way that produces the
sounds of the words in our minds.

That is the insight that I had yesterday or today.  I have learned to pay more attention to the meaning that arises from seeing text without actually reading it (meaning, saying all the words to myself).  The brain is a pattern matching machine, and because we learned to read (translate squiggles into sound patterns), and we learned to communicate verbally (translate sounds patterns into meaning), the squiggles have consistently led to the meanings for us, but we have to actively suppress the sound patterns so that A) they don't take up our time, and B) they don't take up any mental energy.

Landmark likes to say that we are "meaning making machines" - and we are.  We can use that to our advantage when we want to read a lot of text quickly.  It takes practice.

Some of the insights in this post came from Graeme Blake, whose website is full of good info for getting smarter (all with the intent of getting readers higher scores on the LSAT, but smarter even if you never intend to take any test).

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