Can the right app make you read 400+ words per minute?

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Before reading any further, take a look at the clock. Jot down the time. I know, it’s a weird way to start a blog post, but it will make sense in a bit, I promise.

How much time do you spend reading news articles or blog posts? If you’re like most people, you spend at least a few minutes per day catching up on current events or what your favorite blogs are writing about. One way to check is to look at your RescueTime report for News and Opinion – last month I spent over thirteen hours on it. It may or may not take up huge amounts of time for you, but wouldn’t it be nice to get some of that time back for other things? What if you could read twice as fast and still retain the same amount of information? Seems great, but I’m not sure I want it quite enough to invest the effort in learning to speed read.

That’s why I was really intrigued to see a presentation at last month’s Quantified Self 2015 European Conference. Kyrill Potapov gave a fascinating talk about his experience with Spritz, a new technology that promises to make it easy to dramatically increase your normal reading speed. That’s normally a marketing claim I’d be skeptical of, but one of the great things about Quantified Self talks is that they generally come packed with data.

Kyrill Potapov sharing how he increased his reading speed to 400 words per minute using Spritz, a speed reading app. #qseu15 #productivity #speedreading

A photo posted by RescueTime (@rescuetime) on

Kyrill doesn’t work for Spritz – he’s a secondary school teacher in London – but he was interested enough in increasing his reading efficiency that he sought out the tool and tracked his progress as he used it. And the results were dramatic. He was able to increase his average reading speed by nearly 100%, up to over 400 words per minute. The best part was, it didn’t seem like it took all that much effort on his part. No special training, no exercises, just start reading using the app.

The method Spritz uses is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)  and it works by reducing the amount of distance your eye has to travel while reading. Instead of scanning back and forth across lines of text, the words are presented in a rapid continuous stream one at a time. There is technically more to it than that, but that’s the main thing you will notice when you try it. As far as I can tell, this makes reading faster in two ways. First, you shave off the fractions of a second your eye usually spends moving from word to word – or line to line. Second, as words are only displayed once, you are forced to pay attention or you will miss out. It’s a different experience than reading normal text, but not an unpleasant one. In fact, the need to pay attention was so apparent that I found it easier to tune out outside distractions.

There are several apps that use the Spritz technology, so in theory it should be easy to start using it. In practice it was a little harder than I wanted it to be. Many apps involved copying and pasting large blocks of text into a text field, which is more cumbersome than I will probably use and felt like little more than a fun demonstration. That said, there is a Chrome extension called Readline that seems to work really well. When I’m on a page I want to read quickly, I just highlight the text, right click and select “start Readline”.

I’m currently reading at about 400 words per minute, and I feel like I retain most of what I read. There are a few places it completely falls apart – like reading a long news article that has ads mingling with the content. But so long as I’m careful about which text I select, it seems like it really helps. There is some debate about whether or not Spritz enables anything more than skimming, but when I’m reading news or blog posts I’m usually not extraordinarily invested in the content in the first place. In fact, in a context like that where I’m likely skimming anyway, Spritz actually makes me absorb more by forcing me through the whole post linearly.

So if you are looking for an easy hack that can save a few minutes each day, give Spritz a try, and let us know in the comments what you think of it.

Oh, one more thing. Remember when I asked you to look at the clock at the start of the post? Check the time now. How many minutes did it take you to get here? This post is about 800 words, so if you were reading with Spritz set at 400 wpm, this post would take you 2 minutes. 🙂


3 Comments on “Can the right app make you read 400+ words per minute?”

  1. Paul says:

    I read this in under 2 mins, but I also didn’t read every word. Note that you can’t really SKIM with RSVP. One additional point: it’s not really “new,” since it’s been studied for decades.

  2. arogers907 says:

    I have the Sprint Reader – Speed Reading Extension installed in Chrome. I like that I can easily highlight a section of text or page, right-click and “Sprint read selected text.”

    I’ve found that speed reading doesn’t work for certain types of reading. It’s a challenge for articles or studies that cite lots of numeric figures. It also isn’t ideal for list or outline-style reading.

    However, for narrative writing, stories and articles, it works pretty well. I have my default sprint reading speed set at 400 words per minute. Once I’m into it, I can up the speed with a keystroke without breaking eye contact with the screen. I usually finish a news article-length piece at 900 words per minute.

    -Andy

  3. Hi Robby,

    Noting your frustration with pasting text into a reader app I’d encourage you to try the free PDF functionality at http://www.speedread.io.

    Feel free to let us know that you think!

    Mike

    p.s. There’s some bonus content here if you feel like reading a classic book on your lunch break: http://www.speedread.io/free-classics