If Paul Scheele, co-founder of Learning Strategies Corporation, had narrated the intro for The Six Million Dollar Man, it would have gone something like this:
“Steve Austin, average reader, a man barely above 200 words per minute. Gentlemen, we can retrain him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first PhotoReader. Steve Austin will be that PhotoReader. Better than he was before. Better, smarter, faster.”
OK, that was kinda cheesy, but PhotoReading really is like getting a bionic implant in your brain. They describe it as getting your reading done in the time you have, at the level of comprehension you need. Paul Scheele developed this system based on his extensive background in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), accelerated learning, and preconscious processing.
Traditional speed reading
Before we get into PhotoReading, let’s first talk about traditional speed reading. This is all about moving your eyes faster across the page. It’s not very complicated at all, and you can start doing it right now by following these tips.
1. Use your finger to keep your place on the page. If you lose your place now and then, you can waste a lot of time reading stuff you’ve already read. Keeping your finger moving also reminds you to keep your reading pace up, and frees up your mind to focus on reading instead of holding your place.
This is such a simple trick, but it’s amazingly effective.
2. Don’t subvocalize. This means that when you read a word, don’t sound it out in your head. Just see the word and your brain will know what it means.
Some people say that subvocalization aids comprehension. I don’t think it helps as much as they say, and anyway, it will stop you from reading much faster than you can imagine a voice in your head.
This is a tough habit to break completely, but it’s not too hard to make some progress if you try.
3. Use your peripheral vision. Moving your eyes all the way from one side of the page to the other makes them tired and slows you down. This is the reason that web pages today have fairly narrow columns, as opposed to web pages from the mid 90s that took up the full width of the screen.
But since you can read a word without focusing directly on it, you don’t need to move your eyes all the way back and forth. If you do that, you’re just wasting your peripheral vision on the margins.
Keep your eyes more to the middle of the page, and use your peripheral vision to read the first few and last few words on each line. (Thanks to Tim Ferriss for this speed reading tip.)
4. Kindle tip: press the “next page” button before you get to the end of the page. Probably the most common complaint I hear about the Amazon Kindle is that the page turning is too slow, despite it being 20% faster in the Kindle 2 than the Kindle 1.
I can only think that these people must be reading all the way to the last word on the page before pushing the button, so that fraction of a second seems like a long time. Instead of doing that, push the button a bit early, timing it so that the page turns right after you finish the last word.
OK, that’s basic speed reading for you. These tips alone will work wonders. For the average person, they will at least double your reading speed, easily.
Beyond just moving your eyes faster
But that’s not really enough, is it? You can only move your eyes so fast, and if you go too fast, your increased speed will come at the cost of reduced comprehension.
The average person reads at 220 wpm, and only 1% of all people can read at 400 wpm. How then, can PhotoReading catapult average readers far past the 1% level? Because it’s not based on moving your eyes faster across the page.
Time for a little reading comprehension test. Go ahead and read this paragraph:
“With hocked gems financing him, our hero bravely defied all scornful laughter that tried to prevent his scheme. ‘Your eyes deceive,’ he had said. ‘An egg, not a table, correctly typifies this unexplored planet.’ Now three sturdy sisters sought proof. Forging along, sometimes through calm vastness, yet more often very turbulent peaks and valleys, days became weeks as many doubters spread fearful rumors about the edge. At last from nowhere welcome winged creatures appeared, signifying momentous success.”
You probably think it makes no sense at all. That’s because you’re missing the context.
In 1971, Dooling and Lachman ran an experiment using this paragraph. Half the subjects read it without being given a title, and had very poor recall. But half the subjects were told that the title was “Christopher Columbus Discovering America,” and for them it made perfect sense.
How did you feel when you read that paragraph, not knowing what it was about? It probably wasn’t much fun. Now, what if you felt the same way as you plowed through an entire book, word by word? At best, you’d be wasting your time. At worst, you’d feel the dread of knowing you weren’t getting the information you need to pass your test or do well at your job.
If you were reading it in context, knowing up front that it was about Christopher Columbus, you would have understood “an egg, not a table” (the world being round, not flat), the three sturdy sisters seeking proof (the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria), the fearful rumors about the edge (falling off the end of the world), the welcome winged creatures (birds, indicating land was nearby), etc. You would have retained much more of it, and I’m sure you would have found it far more enjoyable to read.
I came across this paragraph in a book that had nothing to do with PhotoReading, but I used it here as an example of why reading better isn’t just about moving your eyes faster. It’s about changing the way you read, using your brain the way it works best instead of plowing through the pages with brute force.
What PhotoReading is not
PhotoReading is really a fantastic system. First though, let me talk about what I think are the two biggest downsides. These aren’t really flaws, just limitations you should be aware of.
Whenever PhotoReading is mentioned, you often see a figure of 25,000 words per minute. This needs some clarification. PhotoReading is the name of the whole reading system, as well as one of the specific steps of that system.
The PhotoReading step involves flipping through the pages at a brisk but relaxed pace of about one page per second, not reading, but mentally photographing the pages at about 25,000 words per minute. But because the PhotoReading system involves other steps, your overall reading speed will be much lower. They say it will triple your reading speed, and I think that’s a perfectly fair estimate.
Your reading speed will vary from one book to the next because you have a lot of flexibility in how you apply the system, but tripling your reading speed is no big deal for a PhotoReader. In some cases, it will be much faster.
The other thing is that PhotoReading is not appropriate for all books. When reading a murder mystery, you might want to take your time soaking up every word, and you certainly don’t want to ruin the suspense by reading anything out of order. In that case, normal reading, or perhaps traditional speed reading, would be the way to go.
You would use PhotoReading when you want to extract information out of a book, when your intent is to learn something but not necessarily to enjoy the experience of a beautifully unfolding storyline. Most of us read both kinds of books, so we’d choose the best way to read based on what kind of book it is.
What PhotoReading is
One thing you always have to keep in mind is your goal in reading your book. Is your goal to consciously process every word? No. You might choose to do so, but reading every word is not your goal per se.
Your goal might be something like learning the advantages of the new cover sheets for the TPS reports, so you can decide whether to recommend using them in your department. Your goal will be completely different for each book, and be highly personalized based on what you already know, what you need to know, and how much time you have.
Whatever your goal is, the most efficient way to achieve it is almost certainly not to read every word. In fact, you’ll probably find that only 4% to 11% of the text carries the essential meaning for you.
I know it’s hard to accept that, because we’ve been trained to read every single word, but you can check this for yourself. One of the purposes of PhotoReading is to make it easy to find the parts of the text that are relevant for you, based on what you’re trying to get out of it.
PhotoReading involves a lot of things, and I can’t cover everything here. But one of the most important differences from normal reading is that you don’t just read every word from start to finish in one pass.
Instead, you make multiple passes though it. On each pass, you identify specifically what else you want to get out of the book, and whether it’s worth spending time on that. If so, you focus your efforts on going deeper into the parts you need.
With normal reading, you could read a whole book from cover to cover, only to find that it wasn’t worth reading. With PhotoReading, you improve your comprehension on each iteration, until you reach the point of diminishing returns.
If you read the 10% of the book that contains 90% of the value, why would you want to then read the remaining 90% just to get the other 10% out of it? In the same time it takes to get 100% out of one book, you could get 90% out of 10 books. The main thing PhotoReading does is let you find the most important parts, so you don’t have to read everything blindly.
Does it work?
The most controversial aspect is the PhotoReading step itself. This is the part of the system where you flip through the book, mentally photographing one page per second by looking at them in a certain way.
Paul Scheele acknowledges that you won’t have any conscious recollection of what you’ve mentally photographed. He says you’ve put the information in your inner mind, but you then need to bring it to the conscious mind using specific activation techniques.
I can’t say with any kind of scientific certainty whether the mental photographing works, because I’m not an expert in NLP, accelerated learning, or preconscious processing. I believe that it does, but I can’t prove it.
However, I know for sure that the PhotoReading system would let you read faster with better comprehension even if you skipped the actual PhotoReading step! (Not that you should, but you could.)
Why? Because so much of the system makes sense without any leap of faith. Things like making multiple passes, having a clear purpose, taking an active approach to reading, prioritizing different parts of the material, recognizing core concepts, tailoring your approach to your specific goals, being in the right state of mind while reading, skipping text that is redundant or not relevant to you, mind mapping, associative memory techniques, utilizing a variety of reading styles, and more.
Some people try to discredit PhotoReading because they don’t accept that the subconscious mind can play an important role in reading. That’s certainly understandable, and I don’t really understand that part myself. However, these people are overlooking the many parts of the system that obviously work. Anything that the subconscious mind adds is icing on the cake.
My first real world test of the system happened when I was partway through the 9 CDs, when I went to the library. Normally I check out one book or maybe two. Any more than that, and there’s a big chance that I’ll get sidetracked by something else, and I won’t even start reading some of the books before the due date.
I just started browsing, and before I knew it, I had seven books in my hands. Seven? That was too much, and I thought I’d better put some back. But then I thought no, I’m going to see what happens. Using PhotoReading, I read three of those books later that same day. I breezed through the other four, and I went back for more. Yes, it works.
The biggest drawback for me is that in some cases, I just don’t want to use PhotoReading for its intended purpose. That is, I really want to focus on every single word rather than extracting the information that’s important to me. Although when I hear myself saying that, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
I think it’s tough to break the habit of reading every word, even when you know it doesn’t serve you. While you can use PhotoReading right away, they say you get better over time, and I’d guess that breaking this habit of over-reading is one of the things you get better at.
I’ve never been a scanner by nature, and when I have a good book, I really want to read it slowly. At the same time, I often read books that aren’t a work of art so much as a source of information.
For those books, it’s far better to get the information you need in a fraction of the time, so you can either read more books or have more time for other things. PhotoReading allows you the flexibility to vary your reading style to suit your needs, so I even use some of its techniques on the works of art.
I highly recommend the PhotoReading course, and I haven’t even remotely gone through all the material yet. The 9 CDs alone are terrific. I keep them in my car, and I’ve listened to them several times.
I don’t remember if I got the classic or deluxe version, but what I have also comes with a workbook, the books “PhotoReading” and “Natural Brilliance,” the 3 DVD set “PhotoReading Results Supercharger,” the “PhotoReading Activator” paraliminal CD, and the CD-ROM course “Clear Mind – Bright Future.” All of which I haven’t gotten to yet, and which are above and beyond the CDs that explain the whole system.
If you don’t have the money for it, I hope you got some good tips out of this anyway. But if you can afford the investment, PhotoReading will undoubtedly give a big boost to your reading speed, comprehension, and enjoyment. Try it risk-free, with their money-back guarantee. Of course, if you do, I’ll assume that you can just breeze through these 2,500 word posts.