If I were to sit with you as you read this study guide and ask you to show me with your forefinger how you believe your eyes move across the page, what do you think the speed and path of that movement would look like? The majority of people would trace each line of text in straight lines from left to right, as they move gradually down the page. However, they would be incorrect.

Stop-start sweeps

The average reader takes in approximately 200-240 words per minute. Taking in text line by line is an effective way to absorb information, but it is not the fastest. There are many different pathways by which our eyes can travel across a page and still successfully absorb information

When we read, our eyes actually make small and regular ‘jumps’, pausing or ‘fixating’ in order to take in information (see illustration on page 70). Your eyes therefore do not move smoothly in one continuous sweep across the page; they stop and start in order to take in information. It is possible to make an immediate improvement in your reading speed by spending less time on each pause, and but using a guide such as a pencil. Interestingly, the eyes can see things clearly only when they can ‘hold them still’:

If an object is still, your eyes must be still in order to see it.

If an object is moving, your eyes must move with the object in order to see it.

Test this for yourself by holding a finger in front of your eyes. When it is still, your eyes are still; when it moves, your eyes follow it in order to see it. In relation to reading, this means that your eyes have to pause to take in the words, because the words are static. This is a critical speed reading concept. When your eyes pause, they can take in up to five or six words at a time. They can easily fixate after the beginning and before the end of the line, thus taking in the information ‘to the side’. . If you use a visual aid, it minimizes the amount of work that your eyes have to do, keeps your brain focused and maintains constant reading speeds, combined with high levels of understanding.

Let’s Cover One More Thing


The tendency to ‘mouth’ words as you are reading is known as sub-vocalization. It is a natural stage in learning to read. It could be a barrier to learning to speed read for some people if they were dependent upon it for understanding, because it may slow down the rate at which words are read. However, as it is quite possible for your brain to sub-vocalize 2000 words per minute, the problem vanishes!

The advantage of sub-vocalization is that it can reinforce what is being read. You can choose to use your inner voice selectively – to emphasize important words or concepts – by increasing the volume on demand and literally shouting them out internally. The technique then becomes a positive memory aid.

Sub-vocalization can be of positive benefit to dyslexic readers, because internalizing the sound of the words as they are read will provide a reminder of the shape of the individual letters and will appeal to both the right and left sides of the brain.