As Jim Pagels marched through his final semesters of college, the reading material got out of control. "I had hundreds of pages of reading per week, and it was just awful to get through them," he says. "I began to seriously question if I had an issue in terms of reading speed."
He decided to try the speed-reading software Spreeder. The online application takes large blocks of text and spits them at readers one word at a time. This rapid-fire style eliminates one of the most time-consuming parts of reading: the eye movement from word to word. Instead, readers stare straight at the screen and focus on the words shooting at them.
In the six months since Mr. Pagels started, he went from reading 300 words per minute to more than 520, ratcheting up the speed each day by one word per minute.
This technique of speed-reading – called "rapid serial visual presentation" or RSVP – has many skeptics, but it just gained one very big supporter. South Korean electronics giant Samsung announced that it will build an RSVP reading feature into its Galaxy S5, an updated version of the top selling smart phone in the world. When the flagship device went on sale this month, it marked a massive expansion of RSVP software, potentially changing the way people like Pagels read online articles, e-mails, and digital books.
"Pretty much everyone that I know, they fetishize reading on print," says Pagels, now a writer in Dallas. "I love reading on the computer. This works really well for me."
Interested readers can copy an article and paste it into Spreeder.com. The free software starts off new users by showing them one word every fifth of a second, but advanced users can adjust the settings to see what rate works best for them. For example, Pagels prefers seeing three words at a time. Readers can also pause or rewind the flow at any point.
Samsung partnered with a slightly different service called Spritz. It displays one word at a time, but unlike Spreeder, Spritz highlights a single letter near the middle of each word, a technique that it says helps readers focus.
No outside studies have backed up Spritz's claim that it can boost reading speeds up to 1,000 words per minute – fast enough to read a 300-page book in less than 80 minutes. But research has shown that RSVP software in general helps increase reading speeds.
The new book "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" argues that such apps help a great deal when reading about simple topics or a person's area of expertise. But the book's authors – Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel – write that reading comprehension drops when people speed-read articles that deal with complex, unfamiliar topics.
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