The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program by Stanley D. Frank

Feb 5, 2013

For as long as we have been married, Mike and I have been avid fans of financial guru and radio show host, Dave Ramsey. We love him for his plain talk, his ridiculously sensible ideas, and his relentless tirade against debt. If we are driving somewhere after 7:00 some evening, we almost always turn on Dave to catch a few of his conversations with people who are woefully in debt.

Occasionally, he will talk to someone who is thousands of dollars in debt but who only makes $20,000-$30,000 a year, which means that the climb out of debt will be a slow, difficult one. In those cases, Dave will usually tell them to, first, stop wasting money, but also, increase their income, whether it's by adding another job (or two) or looking for a different, higher paying job (or occasionally, going back to school, although he generally discourages this if it's going to add a great deal more to their already suffocating debt).

Believe it or not, in spite of the financial introduction, I am going to bring this conversation around to books. As you know, even though I read a great deal, I am extremely slow. For the last few years, I have been reading an average of 52 books a year. I have so many books I want to read that I just keep thinking about how nice it would be if I could read closer to 100 books per year (or even more!). The problem is, I am already trying to use all my spare minutes to read: I read while blow drying my hair, brushing my teeth, putting Bradley to bed, washing the dishes (audio book), riding in the car, etc. In other words, and to tie the first two paragraphs into this one, I have maxed out my available income. I need to make more money, but obviously, I can't add more hours to the day (though I so wish I could!). So the only other option is to read faster.

And that is why I checked out, The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. Such a nerdy title, I know. But, honestly, what would have sounded better? Seven Days to a Speedier You? Find Your Inner Speed Reader? Break the Subvocal Barrier in Just Seven Days? I'm sorry, speed reading is just nerdy, no matter how you phrase it.

And hold onto your seats because it's only going to get nerdier (and I'll now try to stop using that word).

I probably would have never checked out this book on my own because, well, because it that one word I said I wouldn't say again.  But my brother was taking a "surviving college reading" class at BYU, and they used this book as part of the course, so I figured there would at least be something valuable in it. And there was.

Born in 1909, Evelyn Wood was the first person to really analyze and study what made fast readers fast. She devised a number of hand gestures and tests to help people increase their reading speeds and turned all her findings and methods into a seminar called Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics. Stanley D. Frank, who wrote this book, took her methods and taught them all over the country.

Towards the beginning of the book, you are asked to take an initial speed reading test. (As a side note, one thing that I appreciated is that these reading tests just used the text of the book, so you didn't have to read about something random like turtles on the coast of Florida.) The average person reads 250 words per minute. During that first test, I clocked in at 230 wpm. I was not at all surprised. I already knew I was slow.

Then he gives you the most basic of techniques: underlining the lines as you read them. After practicing this for a few pages, you take another test. This time, my speed was 306 wpm. It has actually been kind of amazing to employ this technique because I can tell that I instantly start reading faster as soon as I begin moving my finger across the page, and as soon as I stop, I slow back down (which, incidentally, is very frustrating).

There are two types of reading: subsonic (or subvocal) and super sonic. Subsonic reading is horizontal, moving across the page left to right, line by line. It's also sometimes referred to as subvocal because you are theoretically reading slow enough that you're "saying" the word in your head. Subsonic reading caps out at about 900 wpm. Super sonic reading is vertical, where your eyes move down the page in one fluid sweep. It's very visual--you can take in large groups of words at one time. Super sonic readers can read anywhere from 1200-10,000+ wpm (crazy to think about, I know). (The 900-1200 wpm range is a dark area you don't want to be in--basically your brain can't decide if you're reading linearly or vertically, and it just doesn't work).

I, myself, have very realistic goals: By March, I'd like to be reading at 600 wpm. That's more than twice as fast as I was reading at the beginning of the year, which means that a book that normally takes me a week to read would only take me three or four days. I actually have no desire to break the subvocal barrier. At 600 wpm, reading will essentially still be the same experience for me, just a little faster. But if you begin reading vertically, it's completely different. I want to read slow enough that I can still savor words and phrases and spend actual time living in the book. If you read at 5,000-6,000 wpm, the book is essentially over before you've had time to immerse yourself in the plot and characters. (Here I am, acting like I even could read 5,000-6,000 wpm; I'm pretty sure my personality would make it impossible for me to ever get that fast.)

I'm sure a lot of you speed readers out there don't even have to think about going fast. You just go. But for me, I'm finding that I really have to concentrate on it. If I devote a chunk of time and use the underlining or S motion techniques, I can go fast(er), but I have to consciously be trying. Hopefully, the more I work at it, the faster I'll become. The good news it, I haven't noticed my comprehension going down, which was one of the main things I was worried about.

And finally, I have to tell you that this book made me laugh out loud in several places, and I had to go back and read those sections to Mike because I just found them so funny. These sections weren't supposed to be funny, but they were, in part because the author is just a little too serious in some places, but also because it was written in 1990, so some of it is really dated. For your reading pleasure, here are a few of my favorites:
  • " will do well to write down a brief list of the required materials for a study session before starting. Then, when these things are assembled in plain sight, you can proceed with the assurance that you have at hand all the basic items necessary to do your best work."
  • "At the end of each line, lift your fingers one-fourth to one-half inch above the page." (See what I mean by the need for practice? I'm still raising my hand five-eighths of an inch off the page. Totally unacceptable.)
  • "Choose a chair that's comfortable but upright." 
  • "To break in a book, place it on your desk or another flat surface so that it rests on its spine, on the binding. Then open both the front and back covers slowly, until they rest flat on the table...Allow a few pages from each side of the book to flop down toward the desk, and run your thumb or a finger down the inner margin, against the inner binding, to flatten the pages out..." (and this explanation keeps going and going and going...).
  • "The first thing you should do to become an efficient page-turner is assume an active attitude." (That one gets me every time.)
  • "Finally, he began stapling the papers to one another in their appropriate sequence, with the top of each attached to the bottom of the one preceding. (Clear tape would have done just as well.)" (Clear tape! I never would have thought of that! And I'm so glad to know clear tape meets with the approval of Evelyn Wood's standard of excellence.)
  • "As you already know if you have one, a word processor can be an invaluable tool when you begin to write. On most of these computers you can move text about, make inserts and deletions freely, and type more quickly with such advantages as the 'wrap-around' feature, which eliminates the need to return the typewrite carriage." (We've come a long way since 1990.)
Sorry, I'll stop now. There were just so many I wanted to share!

If nothing else, this book empowered me to take my slow reading into my own hands and do something about it. It was kind of one of those things where I recognized it as something I wanted to improve, but I had no idea how to do it. Now I have some tools and also some motivation.

I'm curious if any of you have consciously increased your reading speed and how you've done it? Are there any other books out there that address this topic and are a little less dated?

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious, when you read (especially fiction) do you have a very clear picture of the characters, the setting, etc.? Do you remember the details of what you read weeks or months later?

    I'm naturally a quick reader, but I'll admit, when I visualize what I'm reading, it's more of an impression than a finely detailed picture. Often can't remember a lot of details about what I've read (thank goodness that Goodreads helps me remember the books I read!), but I usually do remember how I felt while reading the book.


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