1991 Review of Speed Reader
Another old review pulled from a dusty pile of fading paper. Nowadays, you can find a lot of speed reading aids and tests on-line (for example http://www.readingsoft.com/ and lots more found with Google). I still find it very hard to read at more than 1,000 wpm from a computer screen - they say that the difference from paper is about 20%. However, most of my technical reading now is from on-line sources, so that 20% or more handicap really hurts.. maybe it would make sense to work at trying to improve that.
Although the software referred to here may not exist anymore (though you can find references to it in Google, so I'm not totally sure that it does not), nothing in this review is terribly dated. Reading speed is still vitally important and can hinder your success if you are not proficient.
Too many places to go, too many people to talk to, and most of all, too much to read. There is not enough time to read everything that I should be reading, never mind the things I'd just like to read. A dozen magazines a month, half of which are computer related and HAVE to be read, 2 weekly computer newspapers, and then all the electronic mail and bulletin boards. Especially the electronic mail and bulletin boards. I can't even begin to read all the postings and discussions I would like to, so I stick to a small subset, but even that still amounts to more than a megabyte of characters to be read every week.
The faster I can read, the more I can cram into the same amount of time. If I scanned that megabyte of data at 250 wpm (words per minute), it would take over eight hours to get through it. Fortunately, I can read quite a bit faster than that, and a lot of it can be skimmed through very quickly, so my actual time is usually less than two hours - but I still haven't read all that I would like to.
The last time I took a reading test was back in fifth grade. At that time, I could read 550 wpm with good comprehension. While that was above average, there are many people who can read well at speeds two, three or even four times as fast. Obviously that translates into two, three or four times as much material plowed through - and that's what I want.
Enter Speed Reader from Davidson Associates. I saw this advertised in a recent Egghead circular (Advertisements! Another pile of stuff to read!) and, in my usual calm and deliberate manner, after millions of nanoseconds of consideration and internal debate, I rushed right out to buy it.
Speed Reader advertises to "Double, triple or quadruple your reading speed and increase your comprehension". It is copy protected, which I dislike (I am a programmer, and destroy my hard drive two or three times a year - copy protection is such a pain!). I let that detriment pass and plunked over the $34.99 that Egghead wanted for it.
After returning home (observing all posted speed limits, of course) I installed it without any difficulty. The first thing I did was try a "Timed Reading Test". I was curious to see how fast my reading speed would be some 32 years after that fifth grade test. A reasonably adult passage was presented to me, one page at a time, with instructions to hit the space bar as I finished each page. Upon completion, Speed Reader calculated my speed and offered me the opportunity to take a comprehension quiz. The quiz was sensible, but I thought it was a trifle short for a real test of comprehension. On the other hand, any adult using this would probably have a pretty good sense of their comprehension level even without a test, so perhaps this complaint is minor.
The tested speed was interesting. According to Speed Reader, I had read the passage at only 600 wpm. The problem was that, while reading, I felt artificially slowed down because my EGA screen resolution is not all that wonderful. Upon starting Speed Reader I had been given the choice of Monochrome or Color, so I exited out and tried again in Monochrome.
What a difference! I chose a different passage and did the test again. I was much more comfortable , and the results showed it: 893 wpm using Monochrome. Apparently the sheer necessity of so much reading had increased my speed since 1959.
Speed Reader does more than just test your reading speed. It offers "Warm Up" exercises in which letters or words and finally sentence chunks are flashed on the screen. You then have to type in what you read, and if you are correct, the speed increases. I found this fun, but one incident made me wonder if some folks might have trouble with this part. I am fortunate in being a reasonably good speller, so I had little problem typing back what I read. However, I often unconsciously mess up the word "receive". I know how to spell it, but my fingers seem to want to do "recieve" and sometimes my eyes just don't notice that. During one of those tests, "receive" was part of a sentence chunk, and I kept typing it back incorrectly. The speed decreases with incorrect answers, but it took me several tries to see what I was doing wrong and get back on track. There are many, many bright people who simply cannot spell and I would suspect that they would find these exercises frustrating if not impossible.
Fortunately, Speed Reader is not limited to this. There are lessons for Eye Movement, Column Reading and Reading Passages. In all of these, you specify the speed you want to read at, which lets you challenge yourself and work toward specific goals. For example, I tried a "Reading Passage" at 1500 wpm. I felt like I was riding a bicycle down a steep hill with no brakes, but I held on and got through it. As you might expect, the comprehension test showed how miserable my performance really was. Still, that's a goal to work toward and a tool to do it with.
If you are reading this, you probably suffer from the same information overload that I do. If your present reading speed is significantly under 2,000 wpm (Speed Reader can't go any faster), you might consider this a worthwhile investment.
You can reach me at the usual places, phone, email, Compuserve and Prodigy. Go ahead, add to my pile of unread stuff. Speed Reader and I will catch up eventually.
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