Oct 302003
Authors: Todd Nelson

Time is a precious commodity for college students.

Some students are turning to speed-reading classes and studying

software to solve their time crunch.

Flyers have appeared around campus advertising speed-reading

classes. The course promises to double or triple reading speeds on

the first night, said Ben Sawyer, who taught an introductory class

on speed-reading last week.

“The last person who taught you how to read was probably your

third-grade teacher,” Sawyer said. “You wouldn’t want to stop

learning math in the third grade, would you?”

Sawyer, who teaches introductory classes for his father John

Sawyer, explained that the average person’s reading rate is tied to

vocal skills.

“We hear a little voice saying the words we’re reading,” Ben

Sawyer said.

This “little voice” is called sub-vocalization. John Sawyer’s

system teaches readers to disconnect from vocal-based reading, Ben

Sawyer said. The price of the class is $295 for three sessions.

Ben Sawyer said the average reading rate of students is between

250 and 350 words per minute. Students who take the class can

increase that rate up to 700 to 900 words per minute, Ben Sawyer


Katherine Carr, an equine science major at CSU who graduated

from John Sawyer’s course, said it was worth the $295.

“It’s not a miracle deal but it helps as far as the reading

goes,” Carr said.

A study done by the University of Texas, which offers its own

speed-reading classes, has shown that speed-reading is not for

everybody or for every type of reading material. A reader’s ability

to significantly increase reading speed depends upon such variables

as intelligence, physiological and psychological traits,

motivation, diligence in out-of-class practice and general

background of knowledge, the UT study found.

According to the study, changing reading habits requires a

“great deal of hard work, self-discipline and sometimes monotonous


The study also found that speed-reading techniques of

eliminating sub-vocalization can be detrimental to some types of

reading material. For example, poetry and drama are written to be

vocalized by the reader.

Eliminating that vocalization takes away from the intended

meaning of the work, according to the UT study. The study also

points out that, while it may be possible to read about certain

emotions quickly, it is impossible to actually experience these

emotions at high speeds.

Ronald Carver, an educational psychologist at the University of

Missouri-Kansas City, said speed-reading is not effective for

students who are trying to learn new information, according to an

Internet article by David A. Gershaw. Carver did a study in the

mid-1980s that compared trained speed-readers with naturally fluent

readers. In both groups, according to the article, comprehension

decreased as reading speed went higher than 600 words per


Another reason why humans read slowly is recovery time. This is

the amount of time it takes the eyes to move from the end of one

line down to the start of another. On average, people spend one

hour out of every three hours of reading simply moving to the next

line, according to an article on speed-reading in Industry


Another study aid being marketed to students eliminates recovery

time by only showing one word of a sentence at a time. The study

aid is called RapidReader, a product released by a local software

company. Class notes and Web sites can be viewed on a computer

screen, PDA or cell phone in a format that the program’s designer

Peter McIan said can make the user read up to five times


“Students can sit down before a class and whiz through their

notes on a cell phone or PDA,” McIan said. The program is designed

to flash single words quickly in a particular rhythm, which nine

years of research showed the brain comprehends the easiest and


Kids who grew up playing video games respond to this technology

very well, said Bill Van Eron, whose company is affiliated with


“The human brain has the capacity to read at 1,600 words per

minute,” Van Eron said. “This program helps you tap into that





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