Faster is Smarter?

Faster is Smarter. That’s the claim we make right beneath our logo and I certainly didn’t expect it to be a contentious one. Well, not passionately contentious. But since sending out the Spreed:News demo Beta site to friends and family, no feedback has been more consistent than the comment on this slogan. Surely we had it wrong. How could “faster” be “smarter”? It’s counterintuitive.

Counterintuitive, indeed. That’s the problem. Many of us were taught to read in similar ways and environments and it shouldn’t be a surprise that most of us read at very similar rates. Those of us who read at average speed (and there’s a big percentage of us lumped together) have very similar tendencies – we sub-vocalize too much, we get caught up on unfamiliar names and we are convinced that the only way to improve our comprehension is to slow down.

Do you remember the kids that always seemed to finish their readings or their exams first? I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that those people were any smarter than us. But they had figured out how to comprehend written information quickly. One of my wife’s best friends was taught to read at the age of 3 by her 6 year old brother (whom I’ve always thought was a genius). When she was in grade 3 she told her classmate (my wife) not to worry about reading every word because you will eventually figure everything out. An eight year old child taught a not-so-simple reading principle in one short sentence. And, not so coincidentally, my wife is now a very rapid reader.

Faster is Smarter is no absolute. It isn’t always a good idea to increase one’s reading speed. If you’re already reading at 500wpm efficiencies may have to be found elsewhere. But why should it be such a surprise that our brains only kick into top gear once pushed a bit? As we’ve referenced before, a scientist has demonstrated that comprehension increases when reading speed increases over 300wpm and explains that the slower reading speeds results in lost information retention. Essentially, the brain doesn’t work efficiently at the slower rates.

Late last year we ran a test with some grade 12 students in Toronto. Half of them read Document A conventionally, and Document B via Spreed at 300wpm. The other half did the opposite. While 300wpm was approximately a 70% increase in reading speed, the result was that students had a 7% increase in comprehension.

Our work is only just starting at Spreed, but our goal is to continue to improve the product, convince the world that computer-assisted reading can be extremely valuable, and get people to believe that when it comes to reading, faster can be smarter.

Posted by Anthony Novac

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Filed under General, Reading, technology

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