Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Improve Your Productivity: Read Faster

In this age of information, a great number of people spend most of their waking hours reading. Value investors are no exception; we need to read articles, books, 10-Ks and all sorts of other filings. The benefits to reading faster, therefore, are massive.

As I recently learned, speed reading is no myth; it can be done! In the last two months, I've tripled my reading speed. While comprehension is a difficult thing to measure, I have tried to measure it anyway, and I believe my comprehension has not suffered as a result of my faster reading. I'm convinced that with a little practice, you can improve your reading speed as well.

The book that helped me read faster is Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump. To read a lot faster, however, you will have to do more than read the book; you'll have to practice the techniques it discusses. Kump has you read a chapter a day, and spend about 30 minutes to 1 hour practicing a set of drills designed to help you improve.

The idea behind reading faster is simple. When we read slowly, it isn't because we are limited by the processing power of our brains. Instead, it's the speed and pattern recognition of our eyes along with our tendency to vocalize (even internally) words that limit our speed. For example, when children read, they "see" and sound each letter one at a time. When adults read, they see and "internally sound" each word one at a time. Speed readers, on the other hand, transmit groups of words directly into their brains, without any vocalization.

Before going through the practice and exercises in this book, I was an average reader at about 200 words per minute. I now comfortably read most materials at almost 600 words per minute. (This does not apply to technically dense subject matter with which I'm not familiar; I have to slow down in those cases.) I continue to practice, however, and I believe it will be possible for me to hit 1000 words per minute one day, on normal materials; but that day is not today, so in the meantime I will keep practicing!

Good luck! I hope you are as satisfied with the book as I was.


Salsero said...

Did you increase you speed even with dense, dry material like SEC filings?

Anonymous said...

Huh... interesting post. I've never really considered the idea that speed reading could help my investment performance. But yeah, it actually makes some sense.

What you mentioned about the difference between how kids read and how adults read is interesting. I think I've seen a similar effect in typing speed. When I type I don't think about each letter, I think about the words and the letters just sort of come out. But I've noticed that slow typers seem to think about each and every letter and it takes them forever to complete the word.

- aagold

Saj Karsan said...

Hi Salsero,

I can read technically denser material somewhat faster than I could before, but no definitely not at 2-3 times (as per the 2nd last paragraph).

juan said...


In what seems like a well supported argument, Skeptoid claims that one cannot read without vocalizing, and that reading speed comes at the cost of comprehension.

They do mention a sort of experiment where comprehension was similar for regular and speed readers, but only when the subject matter was easy, which sounds similar to your experience.

However, their conclusion is this: "To read faster, concentrate on reading slower, and read more often.".

Here's the link to the article, which took me five minutes to read. It's interesting, and perhaps it might only take you two minutes:

Saj Karsan said...

Interesting article, Juan. I don't completely agree with it, but it's hard for me to argue with it definitively because retention is hard for me to measure on my own. Regarding the thousands of WPM discussed in the article, I can't speak for those kinds of speeds, but I can say that even doubling one's reading speed on general material (like the one you cited!) is quite useful!