Why it’s Not a Good Idea to Read Slowly and Carefully

My girls come home from the library with towering stacks of
books. Even as they walk through the front door, they have their noses between the
pages of the first book in their piles. A couple of hours later, a sigh of contentment
can be heard as a book is closed. “I enjoyed that!” By the end of the week, I
hear, “When are we going to the library again, Mum?”
“Surely you haven’t read all your books yet?” I ask.
“We’ve read most of them,” replies Imogen. “There were a
couple of duds we didn’t bother with, but we’ve practically finished the rest.”
“Slow down,” I urge. “Read them more slowly. Surely you don’t
read them properly when you read so fast?”
The girls look at me blankly. Read properly? Of course they
read properly.
I remember my eldest daughter devouring books at a similar
rate. She was constantly turning pages. “Slow down,” I urged her. “Read all the
“But I do!”
I shook my head in disbelief.
Even Gemma-Rose reads too quickly. At least in my opinion.
Not in hers, of course.
Read slowly and carefully so you take everything in…
I’m sure we’ve all heard this advice. It sounds like common
sense, doesn’t it? Well, I recently discovered it doesn’t make any sense at all.
A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing the library shelves
and came across a book called Speed Reading by Tony Buzan. Initially I rejected the book: Just a gimmick, I
told myself. But then I got curious and thought it wouldn’t hurt to pop it in
my library basket. I could take it home and read a page or two, see what the
book was all about.
It turned out to be a very interesting book. Apparently,
reading slowly is inefficient. Retracing our steps to re-read sentences reduces
our comprehension even further. Our brain is much more capable than we give it
credit for. It can easily cope when we read quickly. It takes note of all the
words even if we don’t have time to sound them in our heads. It understands
everything. The brain can remember more when we stop wallowing in the words, and push ahead with speed.
There were a few reading speed tests in the book and my
scores were terrible. I don’t read fast at all. I used to.
When I was at university I managed to read all my course
work and fit in novel reading too. I can remember reading the whole of Gone with the Wind in a few sessions, in
between studying for my final exams. And yes, I understood it all, and enjoyed
it immensely, regardless of the fact I was turning pages at an incredible rate. I understood and remembered my course work too! I passed my exams.
Tony Buzan says university students read with the fastest
speed, especially postgraduate students. They have to. They wouldn’t get
through the great volume of required reading if they slowed down. They don’t read
slowly and carefully. Instead, they read
fast and efficiently.
Like me, most adults read slowly. After they finish studying, they
let themselves slip back to a reading level of school students, even primary
school students. I can believe this. All my girls read more quickly and more effectively than I do. I am rather alarmed by this. It’s not like I was unaware of it. The girls
often have to wait for me to finish a book so we can watch the movie or mini-series
adaptation: “How are you getting on with that book, Mum? Have you finished it yet?”
I just kept making excuses for myself: “I haven’t had time
to read.” But I’ve had more than enough time. I should have been able to read a
dozen books while plodding through just one.
So how do we speed up our reading?
We can use a guide like a finger or a pen to run along under the words.(A knitting needle is even better!) Maybe you
thought that was a no-no. I did. “Take your finger away! You should be able
to read without touching the page.”
We should see groups of words instead of single words…
Maybe I should just point you in the direction of Tony Buzan’s
book. He says everything a million times better than me.
Speed reading seems to be something our children should be
doing, and it’s also something parents can practice too.
Just think if I could read faster. My long list of
unfinished books would soon shrink. My head would fill with all kinds of
interesting things. My memory would improve. I could keep up with my children. Think of all the extra things we could share. I could surprise my daughters by finishing a book
before them: “Have you finished that book yet, girls? Hurry up! I’m ready to
watch the mini-series.” 
If I could read faster, I even could enter a speed reading competition and become a champion! Now that would surprise my girls. It would surprise me too.
“Can we go to the library please, Mum?”
“You’ve finished all your books? That’s great. I bet you enjoyed them immensely.”
Did you notice? Not a word about slowing down and reading more carefully!
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  1. Reply

    Maybe, our reading styles reflect our stage of life? I'm thinking of how young people tend to run everywhere with a thirst for knowledge and new experiences. As I get older, I seem to want to slow down and savour things more and, often, it's nice to ponder and dwell on one thought, rather than fill the mind with lots of new ones. But, it does seem that ther's a difference between skimming and speed reading. Apparently, lots of people these days are unable to concentrate enough to do any more than skim read but, from what you say, speed reading seems to be a useful skill for efficient reading.

    This was interesting, Sue!

    1. Reply


      Yes, there are lots of things that influence how fast we read. We may have speed reading skills but just not want to race through a book. Tony Buzan did talk about literature and poetry. It's quite okay to slow down and savour the words. I guess the same could be said of such books as religious ones. We want to stay with one thought for a while.

      He also did mention skimming and also scanning skills. Yes, these are different to speed reading but an integral part of reading well. I'm actually a good skimmer. I can easily read the bits of a book I'm interested in without a problem, flying over the parts I can see aren't relevant. Maybe it's good to be able to scan a book to see whether its' worth reading. Then if it is, we can then read it quickly. Not all books are worth reading after all.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. Reply

    I have always read extremelly fast. Miss 9 is fast too but Miss 11 is painstakingly slow (her dad is the same) and it is of concern to me if she decides to pursue higher education as besides the extensive reading required they only give you so much time to answer all the questions in exams.

    Thanks for the heads up with the book as I do want some tips to help Miss 11 along. She will also avoid LONG (in her opinion) books because they take so long she can't be bothered or stops part way through and loses interest.

    1. Reply


      Yes, we are all different when it comes to reading. I know one of my older children tends to get bogged down when reading. He is also slower when it comes to writing. Luckily he hasn't had to do uni exams, but instead, he's had to write many assignment. He finds it very stressful meeting the deadlines. I never considered introducing him to speed reading when he was a child.

      This book is aimed at adults but you could probably take some of its content and adapt it for a child. I wonder if Tony Buzan has written anything especially for children, or maybe another author has. I might try and find out!

  3. Reply

    If I had to read slowly, I probably would never have gotten through a book in my life. It slows down my comprehension – and my interest – to slow the reading pace, if that makes any sense. (??) As it is, I am a "noted" bookworm, having read thousands of volumes. I do re-read a lot, however, as I forget where I've read what. I'm with Vicky in thinking that our reading styles reflect our stage of life, however. I can't concentrate as I once could, especially when I pick up and put down a book a lot. I also hadn't thought of (or realized) the difference between skimming and speed reading. This was very helpful!!

    1. Reply


      "It slows down my comprehension – and my interest – to slow the reading pace, if that makes any sense." You are saying exactly what Tony Buzan says in his book!

      Our stages of life… I wonder if my problem is motivation. I am just not as interested in reading as I used to be. While I'm reading, half my mind is occupied with thoughts of what I'm going to write next or something else! I find it hard to concentrate only on the task at hand because I don't really want to. Buzan talks about motivation. A speed problem might have nothing to do with technique at all. I don't often read for pleasure these days but I used to all the time a few years ago. There was nothing I liked better than getting lost in a book. I went through hundreds of them very quickly. And enjoyed them all. I can still read a how-to-improve-your-writing book quickly!

  4. Hi Sue,
    I love how you question assumptions so many people never address.

    I've always read fairly slowly; my mum, husband and daughter all read very quickly. I wonder if each of us has some innate preference? I like to think that I savour books. It certainly doesn't stop me getting through a great number of them! I watch videos in a similar way – I don't like to miss a single word!

    I like Tony Buzan's books very much. Have you read any of his memory books? I came across them at our local library when I was about fourteen. I used his systems to remember everything for my O and A levels – they served me very well!

    1. Reply


      Some books are probably meant for savouring! Maybe you are the sort of person who appreciates every word an author writes. I know some people skim over descriptive passages. I pass over Tolkien's poetry even though I love his stories! Doing this certainly helps me get through books more quickly. I just don't have the patience or interest to read every word of particular books.

      I also love Tony Buzan. Recently we bought his iMindmap software. I wonder if you have seen that. He was the inventor of mindmapping which is a much more efficient way to generate thoughts, take notes, plan, summarise…. compared to traditional down-the-page writing. I've read a little about his thoughts on how the brain works and how this relates to mindmapping. And mindmapping can be an aid to memorising. Is this the technique you used for remembering the work for your exams? I came across a children's mindmapping book written with exactly this aim: how to pass exams by using mindmaps for revision.

      Thanks for your comment!

    2. Reply


      I haven't heard of Buzan's peg system, though I had a book years ago that contained a similar technique. I just followed your link. Ooh! I just might have to buy that book!

      There are so many interesting learning techniques that use the brain in different ways to the traditional methods. I am really enjoying sharing our educational discoveries!

      Now I'm off to challenge my brain with some pegging….

    3. Sue, thank you for your reply. I've been wanting to reply to it since I got back from Turkey a week ago!

      I have used mindmapping and find it very useful, but the technique I used for memorising exam facts was Buzan's "peg system".

      It involves associating a word with a number (I learned 1 to 100). You then "hang" items onto each peg using multi-sensory memory creation. When I used to tell people what I'd done they thought I was making a crazy extra amount of work for myself, but it worked brilliantly! And was, of course, fun 🙂

      I just googled it and found this article. http://www.buildyourmemory.com/pegging.php

      "The Memory Book" by Tony Buzan looks like it mentions the system. Ooh, now I've found it I might try and track down a copy!

  5. Reply

    Fascinating. I am really so drawn in by anything reg the psychology of reading….probably why I did post gradate work in Diagnosis and Remediation of Rdg Disabilities! And the Lord certainly knows what He was doing…He steered me in that direction, knowing I'd need a little background given my nervous wreck of a personality when I would have a son ( 15 years after graduating!) who would have dyslexia!
    I find psycho linguistics absolutely captivating….though I only dabble in it and can't say that I have any real expertise. This was SO interesting and as usual, great fun!
    I'm getting ready for the week ahead….doing a few plans for both boys……nice to take a break and hop on over here!

    You do know that your neck of the woods has produced many of the theorists whose works and influences taught in my university….! Interesting, huh?

    Enjoy the beginning of your week and see you soon friend!

    1. Reply


      Wow! Postgraduate studies… You must have a lot of knowledge about reading. Sounds like you have had the opportunity to put all that learning into practice! I don't know anything about dyslexia. I had a few comments on FB about this post. I think someone said speed reading helped her with her dyslexia. I'll have to go back and reread that. It's been a busy day with a birthday to celebrate so I'm a bit behind reading and answering comments.

      I must ask Andy about education theorists. He might know about some Aussie ones, having done his Masters of Teaching.

      Enjoy your week too, Chris! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  6. Reply

    This was really interesting: I had never heard the "read slowly" theory. I am probably faster than average for fiction, general science, and history but probably slower than average for heavy "theory" science and theology. It's almost like I have 2 modes of reading: when I am reading quickly I am not aware that I am reading, I just feel present in the book, but reading theory is a very different experience. Not worse, just different.

    I am a Lay Dominican, so I've always had quite a bit of reading "homework" even as an adult, and I wonder if it has kept my reading speed up. Or maybe I'm just still wanting to read, and don't have much time for it!

    1. Reply


      Oh I love that feeling of not being aware of actually reading. We are living the story and the mechanics aren't relevant. Apparently we should be able to read just as quickly when we tackle something dense and 'heavy'. I think I need lots of practice if I'm going to do this type type of speed reading! I tried to read the tests in the book quickly. Yes, I got through the words at a fairly decent pace but I couldn't answer many of the questions correctly about what I'd just read. I hadn't absorbed the many facts. No point reading quickly if I don't actually take note of the words!

      A lay Dominican… I know some wonderful Dominican nuns. They used to help out with our homeschooling community until they were invited to teach at a new family run school. Not much time and the right motivation probably work together to help us read quickly. Sounds like you enjoy your homework very much!

    • Eva
    • October 8, 2013

    A few observations:

    My girls read faster than my boy.

    My boy loves to "look at books" as he calls it, but not to read books. To him reading a book takes too much time and he doesn't know what he has read. He understands and retains more when he "looks at books". We have been very perplexed by that, but have come to realize that that might be just a way of speed reading. I do think though, that speed reading and also "looking at books" does not give you a good feeling for how an author uses words. You might improve your memory and might retain better what is in a book, but you miss out on some beauty of the language and some subtleties in expression.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, I was also concerned about my girls not appreciating the way an author uses words. That's one of the reasons why I would say, "Slow down!" Imogen tells me that she does take notice of the language and style as she speed reads. I guess she's not just absorbing the bare minimum but actually reading all the words, just at a much faster rate than I can manage. The brain copes with much more and at a faster rate than I realise. But there's no reason we can't slow down and savour words and expressions if we want to.

      It seems all our children are different. They all have their own ways of reading. Quite a few parents have observed their girls read faster than boys.

      After reading this book, I know I could improve my reading rate and retention if I worked on it. I will have to stop writing and do some reading for a change!

      Thank you so much for your comment, Eva!

    • Hwee
    • October 18, 2013

    My son reads very fast too, and I used to wonder whether he has read everything "properly" or has just been skimming through the pages. However, I remember coming across the speed reading book and its benefits so I am not too concerned about my son reading too quickly. When I discovered that my son retains information from what he reads, his reading speed then becomes a non-issue for me. 🙂

    1. Reply


      Speed reading make so much sense when we know how the brain works. Yes, I also wondered about speed reading compared to skimming. Maybe many people think these are the same thing. I know I did. Sounds like you discovered what speed reading is all about before I did!

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I am sure we have met a number of times on Lucinda's blog while writing comments!

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