Need For Speed

By Smriti Daniel

Imagine reading 5,000 words a minute. This entire article – which will top out at less than a 1000 words – would take you seconds; an entire novel might take you an hour. Like Roosevelt, you could read a book before breakfast. Sanjeev Jayaratnam will tell you it's far from being an unrealistic ambition. In the last year, Sanjeev has taught nearly a hundred Sri Lankans to speed read, taking them from average speeds of 150 to 200 words a minute to over 1000 words a minute. This leap in speed is often complemented by a much higher level of comprehension, which simply translates into you retaining much more of what you read.

Sanjeev Jayaratnam

Ramla Wahab (17) is proof enough. When she walked into one of Sanjeev's courses she was already an avid reader. Her first score was around 200 WPM with a 50% comprehension rate, by the time she left she was reading at 1250 WPM with a 70% comprehension rate. Two days may seem like a very short time within which to effect such a transformation, but trainers like Sanjeev have proved time and again that it is far from impossible.

When Sanjeev begins his class, he always points out that we are a point in history, where just to keep up with current events the average human being will have to read more than all the generations that came before him or her. "Julius Caesar received 15 messages a day, Napoleon received 80...today's CEO has some 70 million sources of information on his desk," says Sanjeev. Never has it been so convenient or conversely so seemingly impossible for the average person to stay informed.

So much literature, so little time – Sanjeev thinks speed writing offers some part of the solution to that dilemma. But learning to speed read requires some effort on your part – after all, this is a new skill. The other part of learning lies in keeping an open mind. Students in Sanjeev's class often find that the technique challenges the notions we've had all our lives. Did you think that using a pencil to trace out the lines as you read slows you down? Would you say you had to read a whole sentence to understand what it was saying? Or that if you read slower, you would remember more? Speed reading teaches you that the opposite of these things is true.

Avija Fonseka (16) says that when he first began Sanjeev's tests revealed that he read approximately 162 words per minute (WPM) and that he remembered just a little over 50% of what he had read. When he was done his speed had accelerated to an astonishing 3549 words a minute and his comprehension had surged upward to 93%. And he says that he just keeps feeling more comfortable, the more he uses the technique; fortunately, when it comes to speed, the sky seems to be the limit. Howard Stephen Berg can read 25,000 WPM, and holds the world record for speed reading. Achievements like that of Mr. Berg are only possible because speed reading is based on some pretty sound biology; it works with the brain's mechanisms instead of against them.

We don't actually need to read a whole word to recognize it. In fact, a large percentage of your reading material will be constructed from less than 25 words – just endless patterns of the same words again and again and again. All you should need to do is glance at it.

Sanjeev's students, who range from young students to CEOs of big companies, are discovering this for themselves. They're also finding out that part of the challenge that speed reading is in unlearning old habits. Avija says that when he first began the course he has tendency to mouth the words he was reading, but that the moment he stopped he noticed immediate improvements in both speed and retention. For Ramla on the other hand, concentration was the problem. Sanjeev taught her to use a pointer such as a pencil while reading, and that worked surprisingly well. Ramla says it's easier than ever to read the historical novels and crime thrillers she enjoys so much. It's a sentiment that Avija agrees with – "this just makes reading more fun," he says.

For more information, write to sanjeev@revpe.com, or call Sanjeev himself on 0777346806.

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