I must confess, I hate the term "speed reading." Since the popularization of the approach in the 1960s, there has been such a flood of approaches to the term "speed reading," and so many who have tried to cash in on the promise it offers by unskilled practitioners and program developers, that there is no standard definition. With that being said, then how would you answer the question, "how fast is it, really, to speed read?"

Answering the question depends on your perception of the term. If you are currently reading somewhere in the average range of 125-150 words per minute (wpm), then perhaps you would say learning to read at 250 wpm to 300 wpm would be fast. But is that speed reading? Many would say that is speed reading because the speed has doubled.

I disagree for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important objection is the fact that someone can learn to get through printed material in thousands, or even tens of thousands of wpm, yet not understand what they were supposedly reading. This rapid eye movement approach to speed reading training has disgraced the popular understanding of the term and generated much skepticism to the field and possibility of wider acceptance of the reality of the skills in general.

Here are some generally accepted facts in the academic approach to understanding reading speeds:

1. Linear sub-vocal reading is the process of reading in the left to right manner, generally looking over each word in a line-by-line direction. This is the traditional approach to reading. Speeds with this approach max out at 400-600 wpm.

2. Skimming is selective linear reading where the reader "samples" the text in a random or structured manner. Speed through the material can occur 2-8 times faster than linear reading. This can be a useful tool in the "speed reader's arsenal," but it is NOT speed reading.

3. Scanning is the process of looking through all of the material in order to locate a specific item the reader already has in mind. For instance, looking up a phone number in a list of contacts, or going through a novel looking for a specific scene. Speeds can reach tens of thousands wpm. Again, this can be a useful tool in the speed reader's arsenal, but it is NOT speed reading.

4. Visual Reading is the process of reading in which the eyes are moving rapidly and fluidly over all the print without the reader having to focus on saying each word individually to him/herself. The reader sees all of the words in a variety of eye patterns. Rates exceed 700 wpm and can reach tens of thousands wpm, depending on many factors. The reader's mind instantly responds to the print in a meaningful way, regardless of how the eyes have moved. This IS speed reading. The reader understands, or comprehends the material. Defining speed reading in this manner balances the concept of speed with comprehension.

Visual reading can be achieved by nearly everyone. To master it requires learning new physical and mental behaviors. Because of the change in mental behaviors (thinking strategies), it requires modeling the behaviors, and skillful practice. It will not happen overnight, or in 16 minutes as some have promised.

How fast is it to speed read? It depends on your definition. Understanding the four key terms above should help give you a better idea of what is possible when learning to speed read.

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 inquiry@productivelearn.com. He is the creator and president of Productive Learning Systems, Inc, and ProductivElearn.com, Inc. You can learn more at http://speedreadingtactics.com/speed_reading_newsletter.html and download the free eBook, "The 10 Top Mistakes When Learning Speed Reading."

Additional Resources covering Speed Reading can be found at:

Website Directory for Speed Reading
Articles on Speed Reading
Products for Speed Reading
Discussion Board
Ed Caldwell, the Official Guide To Speed Reading