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INTRODUCTION - The information explosion of the past 30 years and the large amount of reading required of college students make it necessary to read with maximum efficiency. The following is a discussion and explanation of the most current theories and techniques used in the field of reading instruction.

MECHANICS OF READING - Reading is a two-part process:


  • Eyes are like the cameras of the mind. They snap the picture, but the mind interprets.
  • Reading is a jerky left to right process in which the eyes focus on a work (called a fixation), move to the right, fixate on another word, etc. It is during the pauses (fixations) that the mind sees the words. Like a camera the eyes must focus on something before the image is seen.
  • Skilled readers make 3-5 fixations per line, while inexperienced readers can make 10 or more.


  • Reading is primarily a psychological process. Eyes are simply an extension of the brain.
  • On a psychological level your reading rate is determined by three factors: (a) your familiarity with the material; (b) the difficulty level; and (c) your purpose in reading it.
  • This points to the fact that there is no one "right" reading speed. The ability to vary your rate, depending on the above three factors, is a measure of your "reading flexibility."

READING FLEXIBILITY - This concept can be seen as analogous to driving a standard shift car. In driving a standard car you use different gears at different times, depending on such factors as visibility, weather conditions, terrain, etc. No one, for example, always drives in second gear. With reading, you also want to be able to "shift gears" in response to different reading situations. If you use reading flexibility, you will realize there are four general reading rates, each appropriate to a different purpose.

  • Skimming Rate - A high speed search for a specific fact, a very quick overview, or just the few important points.
  • Rapid Rate - A faster than normal reading of easy material, re-reading old material, or a search for main ideas.
  • Normal Rate- Reading material of average or above average difficulty, focusing on main ideas and important details, and pleasure reading when you don't want to miss the literary beauty.
  • Careful Rate - Reading very difficult material, often for study purposes; when a knowledge of details is necessary; when a critical evaluation of creative synthesis is necessary; and poetry reading.

Ask yourself periodically while reading, "Could I read this faster and still get what I want out of it?"
One of the best ways to assess your familiarity with the material, its difficulty, and your purpose is to pre-read everything you read.

PRE-READING -YOUR KEY TO GREATER READING EFFICIENCY - Most writers (other than fiction) organize their material in a set matter: (1) Introduction, (2) Development, and (3) Conclusion. Pre-reading takes advantage of the set manner by which authors organize their material.

Techniques of Pre-reading:

  • Read the introduction, or if there isn't one, the first 2-3 paragraphs thoroughly.
  • Read the first sentence of each remaining paragraph with the exception of the last few. The main idea is contained in the first sentence of a paragraph 90% of the time.
  • Read the summary, or if there isn't one, the last 2-3 paragraphs. This helps reinforce the main points of the article.

For long textbook chapters (20 pages or more) pre-reading as described above may take too long. In that case you can (1) divide the chapter into 2 or 3 sections and apply the technique in each section (perhaps on different days) or (2) after reading the introduction, read only the section headings and the first few sentences within each main section, as well as all bold face print. Also read the conclusion.
Pre-reading, by giving you an overview of the material, will allow you to determine the difficulty, your familiarity, and purpose.

DEVELOPING GREATER SPEED - Read for the main ideas. Seek the ideas behind the words. Ask yourself, "What's the point of this paragraph?" as you read. If you read for the main ideas, the details fall into place.
Some speed techniques:

  • Try reading the white spaces between the lines of print, rather than the lines of print themselves.
  • Shorten sentences by beginning and ending 1/2" in from the margin.
  • Avoid regressions. A regression is a re-reading of a sentence. Most times it is unnecessary. Don't give in to the urge unless you are truly confused.
  • If you mouth the words while you read, you seriously limit your speed. Try reading while biting on a pencil.

DEVELOPING GREATER COMPREHENSION - Remember, the first sentence of a paragraph usually contains the main idea. The rest of the paragraph generally offers (1) examples, (2) justification or proof, (3) further explanation or details.
Read to understand, NOT to memorize.
Read aggressively. Try to anticipate the author's thoughts. It's rare not to know anything about the topic you read about.
Ask these questions after pre-reading and before your thorough reading:

  • What is the thesis or problem here?
  • What is your purpose in reading this selection
  • What is the sequence of ideas?

What information or ideas will you be hunting for as your read?

Last Updated: 8/17/16