Reading Faster: The Science Behind What Works… and What Doesn’t (Ep. 93)

Liz SchotterThis week, we’re diving deep into the science of reading.

My guest today is Liz Schotter, a postgraduate student in psychology at UC San Diego and one of the most active researchers in the field of reading and eye-tracking at the moment.

I reached out to her when I was doing research for the 3rd video in the speed reading series, and the insight she was kind enough to provide really helped to make that video shine.

After finishing that video series, however, I still had questions, including:

  • What are the biological structures in the eyes that make the middle (foveal) regions so much better at reading than the peripheral areas?
  • Why does subvocalization seem to be necessary to reading?

So I decided to ask Liz to be a guest on the podcast, and today, you’ll learn the answers to those questions and more.

Liz covers how the eye is set up, the difference between the two different photoreceptors within the eye – cones and rods (and how they send information to the brain) – and how reading is intimately connected with language and speech. We’ll also talk more in-depth about the speed reading systems I covered in the video series, and finally we’ll cover the best ways to become a better reader.

If you’d like to dig even further into this topic, Liz recently published a detailed paper that collects and presents much of the research that’s been done on speed reading; additionally, it explains the reading process and goes in-depth on many of the things we talk about in this episode. It’s publicly available, so check the link down below if you’d like to read it!

Things mentioned in this episode:

Want more cool stuff? You can find all sorts of great tools at my Resources page.

If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! It’s easy, you’ll get new episodes automatically, and it also helps the show gain exposure 🙂 You can also leave a review!

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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1 Comment:
  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thank you so much for creating this episode! Now I know better how my eyes and brain operate and I can be more at peace with myself.

    In the past I had suffered a lot by forcing myself not to “subvocalize” (saying the words in my head). Whenever I catch myself saying the words in my head, I would force myself to stop that either by increasing the speed at which my eyes roll over the text until subvocalization becomes impossible or by inducing a tension in some part of my body or mind such that the brain gets pre-occupied and cannot subvocalize the words.

    But the problem is that I will end up not understanding anything from the text I just read. In fact on the rare occasions when I test myself with some practice questions given by the teacher, I would find out that I didn’t remember anything I just read. I would appease myself by saying that maybe the words have gone into my subconscious and the subconscious just need some time to process it and maybe somehow later on it will remember it.

    Then later on maybe I would seem to remember something surrounding the topic that I had read. However, much much later, when I accidentally encountered the text again and read it slowly, I would realize that what I had “remembered” is what I already knew from long time ago and not what I had read from the text.

    The worst part is that sometimes reading without subvocalizing seems to work. That’s why I didn’t throw that method away. But with some introspection, I realize a very big difference. It only worked if let’s say I have learned the material before and I am reading it now just to get my thoughts in order before I teach it to someone else.
    And sometimes during such speedy re-reading I do in fact notice information I didn’t notice before, once again giving me false hopes that it is a good method. Cunning isn’t it?

    Now that I have made peace with the fact that I cannot read as fast as I want to for a new topic, I have changed my learning style. I no longer aim to read thick books from start to end. I will instead read one chapter, then think about it, then watch some videos about it etc.

    But even letting go of the book is sometimes hard to do. Not because the academic books are thrilling. But because when in school, I do actually feel great with a big book in front of me. It makes me look very smart, I sometimes spontaneously visualize people beside me marveling at how smart I am and how studious I look. That actually fed my ego when the insecurities of my self-worth was activated (by anything, really).

    Needless, to say, I didn’t score well for my tests. I felt that I had done my part to study by rolling my eyes over those books. In fact, I didn’t like to study because I thought I must be bad at it since I could not remember anything during the few occasions when I did test myself.

    And the only times when I did understand anything seems to be those times when I read extremely slowly.

    So I hated studying but some part of me insists that I cannot go by without studying and I appease that side of me when my eyes rolled over the words.

    And now after I have come to make peace with myself and accepted that I read new material slowly, I start to notice the virtuous cycle that I never really considered before. The virtuous cycle that when I start to understand a bit, I get a sense of satisfaction that makes me want to study. And the more I learn, the more I am able to learn. Something like that.

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