Speed Read 25 000 words per minute?

A few months ago, NRK interviewed me regarding study techniques. They also asked me about speed reading, and I referred to a great tool developed by Andreas Haug many years ago, lynlesing.no. In the same article there is also an interview with a mentalist. He said to NRK that it is possible to photograph the pages. You can read up to 25,000 words per minute with the right training, claims the mentalist. He says that there are many that can read 25,000 words per minute, and they have trained for it.

I respect the mentalist; he is a good person, nothing bad in him. But in this matter he might have missed the mark, or spoken out of term. 25.000 words per minute is 417 words per second. My last memo book was 192 pages, and about 50,000 words. If people were to read 25 000 per minute, that would mean that they could read my book in two minutes. That is ridiculous.

Quite coincidently, I actually met one of the best speed readers in the world, in Oxford. His name is Kjetill Gunnarson. I was competing in the Memory WC, and he attended a brain conference.

Kjetill subscribes to a lot of magazines and newspapers. Every other week he’ll sit down to read a half meter high stack. He won’t read each paper from cover to cover, but quickly swifts through while asking himself “is this interesting?” He will tear out interesting articles and is then left with a 5 cm stack. He goes through the articles he tore out and asks himself, “is this really interesting?” He might discard of half. The stack that was originally half a meter is now reduced to a centimeter or two. This is when he starts to speed read, even though he is the one of the fastest readers in the world.

Kjetill Gunnarson, here interacting with Torgeir F. Thorrud and Oddbjørn By, has read 3050 words per minute in competition. That translates to fifty words per second. In speed reading competitions competitors usually read a factual text in a certain timeframe, and then have to answer questions related to the text. As Kjetill says, one has to adjust the reading to the content. He will take his time when he reads fiction, as he wishes to enjoy the reading, but he will still read quickly. If one reads tens of words per second it is not possible to read every word, one has to skim. Speed reading is actually another word for skimming. You will find more on speed reading in Better Memory: Best of Memo.

To read 25 000 words per second seems strange, especially when the world fastest speed readers read 3050 in competition. There are however magicians that do speed reading tricks, but keep in mind, these are magicians who use classic force or other tricks to mimic speed reading.