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Background material for Year 1 Semester 1 medical student PPSD session on 13th August 2008 by Prof Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr.

The average person reads 200-300 words per minute. It is possible to double or even treble this speed. The phonetic left brain can read up to 1000 words per minute. The perceptual reading ability of the right brain ranges from 10,000 to 50,000 words per minute. The human brain has the ability to ‘photograph’ information and process it later. You can look at a page and retain a lot of it in your mind without necessarily reading every word. This however requires some training. Reading speed is a very individual characteristic and no two persons can be the same. The reading speed is determined by basic intelligence, motivation, psychological & physiological status, and general background knowledge. Anyone can learn to read faster. This however requires commitment, discipline, and hard-work.

Different types of material require different reading speeds. For example  a newspaper can be read faster than a textbook. A novel read for enjoyment can be read faster since there is no pressure to recall details. The speed of reading is also affected by prior familiarity with the material read. It will take longer time to read and understand material that is new. Reading speed is affected by the appearance of the material. Upper case, italics, and right-justification slow down reading. Black characters on a white background increase the speed of reading. The letter size and interline spacing also affect reading speed in various ways depending on the reader.

(a) Failure to focus and keeping the eye wandering all over the page (b) regression: the habitual tendency to re-read material or skip back (c) lack of concentration with consequent low comprehension (d) reading while pronouncing the words either by the mouth on in the ‘head’  (e) word-by-word reading (f) having a limited vocabulary that forces you to stop at each new word and trying to figure out its meaning (g) having no clear objectives for reading: why am I reading? What information do I want to get?. (h) being passive and not interacting actively with the material (i) Trying to remember every information read slows reading; you should rather be selective (j) Eye  problems are an unsuspected cause of poor reading.

The information revolution means that the average person today has to absorb an increasing amount of information in order to stay competitive. This requires ability to assimilate a lot of information quickly. Ability to read fast means that you can get the information you need and have time for other activities. The eye strain of reading is also eased by speed-reading

Have a purpose for your reading; it will motivate you. If all you want is to get a general ‘feel’ for the material then all you need is to skim through. Read for ideas and concepts. Adjust your reading speed to the material. Some material can be read faster than other material. It is a mistake to read everything at the same speed. Do not read for isolated words. Concentrate on what you are reading and try to stamp out all extraneous matters. Aim at reading a passage once so make sure you concentrate to comprehend and do not rely on re-reading again. This will waste time. As you read test your self on your recall like what did I just read? If you can nor answer then you know you have a problem. The reading environment also matters. Make sure you are seated comfortably. Have enough light. Use a books-stand to angle your reading material at 45 degrees to decrease eye strain. Avoid interruptions. Remember that having a big vocabulary is a necessity fort faster reading. Improve your vocabulary in a systematic way. As general advice, the more you read the faster you will read. So try to read a lot and select diverse reading material. 

(a) Fixate on a piece of text without moving the eyes until you ‘read’ it. Aim at reducing the fixation time and to expand the fixation zone. Avoid focussing on one word,. Try to focus on a group of words. (b) reduce sub-vocalization which is sounding out words as they are read. Sub-vocalization could be done in your head and not necessarily by the mouth. Sometimes you may not be aware that you are sub-vocalizing. Make sure that your lips do not move during reading (b) Use tracing which is smooth movement of the eyes over the page because quick and unorganized movements decrease reading speed. Do not skip back (c) Pre-review the material to have a general bird’s eye-view. This includes reading the outlines, the sub-headings and where possible some capitol sentences (d) Note key words as you read. Ignore unimportant joining words that do not change the meaning (e) use an index card, a ruler, or a pencil to move along the lines that you are reading. This enables you to concentrate more.


Writings of Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr

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