Students clock in at speed-reading event

By Zachary Binney

The average Chicago student spends 20 hours per week studying, so it’s not surprising to have too little time to peruse a chapter of organic chemistry and 75 pages of Rousseau every Sunday night. The Student Counseling and Resource Service, however, hoped to make this feat easier, offering to students a crash course in speed-reading on Tuesday.

With a standing-room only crowd, the speed-reading workshop was a huge success, drawing students from all disciplines together to work on skills many haven’t thought about since grade school.

Sherri Wandler, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the SCRS and the workshop’s organizer for the past four years, explained why even the average University of Chicago student reads at only 240 words per minute (wpm). Most people are “sub-vocalizers,” they speak each word to themselves as they read it. Since Americans speak at 210 to 220 wpm, it is not surprising that the average reading speed is just above it.

“This is the biggest problem,” she said. “You should try to hear the word in your head but not say it,” Wandler coached. These “auditory readers” can scan about 400 wpm.

The seminar touched on a couple of techniques designed to increase reading speed. One of the biggest problems is that our eyes sometimes fixate on or skip back to a word we have already read. “These mechanical issues slow us down, and working to reduce these issues would in itself increase our reading speed,” explains the SCRS’s reading skills website.

“You have to guide your eyes with something to keep from fixating on words try using a finger or pen to force your eyes to move more quickly,” Wandler suggested.

“Dropping small words is key. You don’t have time for them.”

She also suggested not stopping to think in the middle of a paragraph. “Have specific times you stop to think: in a difficult text, every paragraph, in a less difficult one, every page or every section,” she said.

Wandler recognized that these methods are not always welcomed with open arms. “It takes a leap of faith to try this out,” she admitted. “We’ve been so married to the way we read for so long, it’s hard to try it a different way and think we can make sense of the text by doing it.”

As for concerns about weakened comprehension, Wandler said students need not be worried. “Speed-reading will help you with your concentration because it challenges you to read at a pace where you have to stay focused,” Wandler said.

She maintained that speed-reading works, and that anyone is capable of it with a little practice.

Working on these techniques with a practice text 10 minutes a day for two weeks will result in improved comprehension and speed, according to the SCRS website.

More than 110 students showed up for the lesson. The enrollment limit was originally 35, but a computer glitch kept allowing more people to sign up. Demand was so high it forced a last minute change in location from the SCRS building to a large chemistry auditorium.

Wandler said the class has “always been something that a lot of students attend.”

Attendees left feeling optimistic.

“I’ve always been interested in improving my speed. I knew I was a bit below average,” said David Berger, a first-year in the College.

Other attendees had more utilitarian reasons for coming. “I’ve got too much reading for the time I have, and I’d like to be able to make that better,” said Thomas Bullock, a second-year in the College.

Berger beamed as his reading speed rose from 212 to 454 wpm after incorporating the workshop techniques. Bullock was somewhat more cautious in his assessment. “I don’t know if today helped, but I think the methods, if I keep trying to do them, have some advantages,” he said.

Wandler isn’t surprised by these results. “If they’re a slow reader, they might double their reading speed,” she said.

She stressed, however, that speed-reading is not a cure-all technique for overworked students. “People want to know if it works for Organic Chemistry. No, it doesn’t,” she said. “It’s good for Hum and Social Sciences texts, or something that’s low priority for you.”