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How Speed Reading Techniques Have Developed Over Time

Speed reading has its birth rooted in the development of the tachistoscope, an instrument designed for flashing images onto a screen in rapid pulses. Early tests conducted using images of planes showed the ability of the human eye to recognize am image flashed for only one five hundredth of a second. The US air force then trained pilots to recognize a sequence of four words flashed on a screen for the same short duration of time. Realizing that this had implications for developing speed reading techniques, Harvard Business School began their own research program.

The basis of all speed reading techniques initially is to dispense with sub vocalization. This is the silent pronunciation of words made by a reader when reading to him or herself. Ordinarily, sub vocalization slows the reading process down considerably, so to dispense with it is the first step in all speed reading techniques. The drawback with the tachistoscope was that speed reading ability diminished significantly when the images were not projected by the machine. Harvard Business School’s research in the 1940s, centered on training the readers to widen their field of visual focus. This research was all carried out using machinery, with the inevitable result that when the machine was taken out of the equation, reading speeds again dropped.

Many years later during the 1950s, a school teacher named Evelyn Wood was carrying out her own research. The story goes that whilst brushing some crumbs off the page of her book, she noticed that the sweeping movement of her hand somehow focused her eyes, helping them to move more smoothly across the page following her hand. It was Miss Wood who first coined the phrase “speed reading”. Modern day speed reading techniques major on widening “eye sweep”. This means the duration between blinks when the eye is open. The more visual information that can be taken in between blinks, the faster your reading ability can become. Eventually, in one sweep, you take in not just words, but groups of words and then whole sentences.

Today the two main speed reading techniques are based on RSVP and TSP. The essence of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) is that you concentrate on text only within the center of your vision. With Tachistoscopic Scroll Presentation (TSP) the technique majors on widening your eye sweep and scanning, or scrolling to take in as much information as possible in that one sweep.


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