February 24, 2012

Speed Reading: Even though I am a mathematician…

Tutor was Han-Na Cha.

First, on subvocalization: attempting to consciously destroy all subvocalization also destroyed my speed and any comprehension I had of the text. Comprehension-wise, I find the voice ‘reads’ the text a little behind my eyes (and far faster than I could speak it aloud), which I find helpful. Despite this, it’s difficult to tell exactly what I subvocalize: focusing on the process interferes with it.

However, I think reducing it in certain areas will increase speed (while slight!) and possibly (hopefully!) comprehension. This is a very maths-related area, so I’ll add some examples.

Example 1: [1\quad 2], (1,2) and \{1,2\} are all different: the first is a vector, the second a tuple, the third a set. However, I take no time to /read/ the symbols surrounding the numbers - they are merely interpreted.

Example 2: x < 2 is probably pronounced “x is less than 2”, but while reading it as part of a series of equations, I don’t subvocalize it as such - just sort of understanding it. This is an aid to comprehension, as focusing unnecessarily on the symbol detracts from the meaning.

Example 3: \exists and \forall are pronounced “there exists” and “for all” respectively; I do subvocalize these (in full! there ex-ists! bleh!) and (likely) focus too much on them. Taken from my metric spaces notes: a sequence is Cauchy if:
(\forall \epsilon > 0)(\exists k \in \mathbb{N})(\forall m,n \geq k)d(x_n,x_m) < \epsilon
In this case, this example is healthily chunked already - each bracketed section is a phrase and together it forms a sentence. The order is important and only the whole statement together makes sense. Reading it should be a bit slower than a sentence because you actually have to understand each part before moving on - they’re all important.

In short, I suppose the aim here is to become as good at reading symbol-heavy sentences as I am wordy sentences.

In second; my current mode of reading is linear, but jumpy. I begin at the beginning and go forth, occasionally hopping back and forth to section titles to see where I’ve come from and where I’m heading until I reach the end, whereupon I stop. A nonlinear arrangement would likely serve better: the headings, a summary (if present), the end, the beginning, for instance. So I suppose a relevant ‘goal’ is try that.


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  1. Han-na Cha

    Hi Chris,

    This is really interesting and I like how you’ve personalised the reflection. I’m intrigued to see how you progress on this and whether you conclude that you can use speed reading techniques, or not.

    Btw – what are your 3/4 action points that you’re planning on taking forward?

    05 Mar 2012, 11:03


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