Reading Groups of Words at Each Glance

It turns out that our eyes can only take in information when they are stopped. What feels like continuous motion is actually move-stop-read-move-stop-read, etc. You can easily verify this by sitting face to face with a partner, holding up a book and watching their eyes as they read. The key is to minimize the number of stops by maximizing the number of words you see at each stop as shown in Figure 6.1.

The person who uses the first eye movement pattern is actually looking at every word, one at a time. The person who uses the second is still looking at every word, but in groups. The person who uses the third eye movement pattern "notices" only a few key words and does so by reading both horizontally and vertically at the same time.

"But the first reader is going to comprehend the material much better than the third!" you may be thinking. Possibly, is my reply. If the third reader actually uses all three eye movement patterns, using the slower patterns very selectively, then he has a better chance of investing his mental energies on the material of most relevance to him.

Figure 6.1. Three eye movement patterns.

"The art of becoming wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." William James

The smart reader is one who uses the third technique to scan the entire book (overview) or chapter (preview), and then comes back and uses some combination of the first two techniques to further explore the sections of most relevance.

Getting to both the second and third levels requires a visual reading strategy. You must silence subvocalization and learn to "trust your eyes". This involves shifting your mental reading process from "see->say->understand" to just "see->understand". One way to make this leap is to build up your visualization muscle using the exercises suggested in Chapter 3 and later on in this chapter.

One way to stop subvocalizing (saying words in your head while reading) is to increase the rate at which your eyes move across the page to the point where it is impossible to subvocalize. This means switching your reading strategy to a point whereby you notice gulps of words at each eye resting point. These gulps sometimes involve pulling words from multiple lines. When I did this recently, I noticed that I was still understanding what I was reading but in a different way. I caught myself thinking: "But now I'm not really reading." In other words, part of my mind still believed that the definition of reading was to look at every word and sound it out in my mind.

Another way to look at this issue of subvocalization is that you should develop multiple reading strategies, some of which may include subvocalization and some do not. You wouldn't want a car that only went one speed. You want to have multiple gears (i.e., reading styles) that can be applied based on the unique demands of each situation.

Click here for an ActiveX/VB Script driven version of the following exercise.


273   ______     11454  _______     17 44 34  _______
545 ______ 87879 _______ 86 32 77 _______
142 ______ 12342 _______ 65 41 28 _______
275 ______ 45411 _______ 27 33 11 _______
848 ______ 78989 _______ 66 32 97 _______
109 ______ 21314 _______ 32 45 81 _______
2763 ______ 56548 _______ 44 18 72 _______
5478 ______ 09711 _______ 31 73 90 _______
4452 ______ 33442 _______ 27 11 88 _______
1127 ______ 83219 _______ 72 61 49 _______
9956 ______ 76675 _______ 16 64 34 _______
3313 ______ 33228 _______ 26 89 55 _______

Figure 6.2. Grouping Exercise.

The exercise shown in Figure 6.2 was adapted from material in Speed Reading by Tony Buzan. It will help you train your eyes to take in words in larger gulps. Begin by covering the numbers with a sheet of paper. Then uncover one at a time for a fraction of a second. From memory, write the number you saw to the right. The idea is to increase the amount of information taken in with each glance. To make it more challenging, try uncovering two numbers at once.

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