Range Reading: The Eyes Have It

"Genius is the capacity to see ten things when the ordinary man sees one, and where the man of talent sees two or three, plus the ability to register that multiple perception in the material of his art." Ezra Pound

Woman reading book image

Several important areas of experimental cognitive psychology are raised in this article regarding Range Reading.

First, Buzan is emphasizing that we need to learn to take in groups of words or chunks of material by increasing the use of peripheral vision.

A number of studies have investigated the amount of information that enters our information processing systems.

A second major point refers to the common practice of back-skipping and how this relates to the amount of time spent processing redundant information.

A third major point relates to speed reading and its increasing comprehension.

Anderson (1985) reports that when we first focus on a stimulus, the information enters an iconic memory storage system, from which it quickly fades and, if not entered into short term memory, is lost.

A number of studies have attempted to investigate the capacity of this system. Early studies utilised the whole report method whereby a number of items were briefly flashed (50 msec) to a subject's visual field and the subject was required to recall as many items as possible. Reports showed that when an array of 12 letters was flashed, subjects could recall at most 4, 5 or 6 of the letters.

Sperling (1960) further investigated the capacity of this system by changing the methodology employed in the studies. He presented three rows of four letters each to the subject. However, after the array disappeared from view, he used a tone to indicate which row was to be recalled. For example, a high tone meant that the subject should recall the top line, a low tone meant the bottom line, and an intermediate tone meant the middle line.

This method was referred to as the partial-report method. He found that, on the average, subjects could report 3 of the 4 letters in each row required. Since the subjects did not know in advance which line they would be required to recall, Sperling estimated that they had 3 letters available for recall, or 9 items, a significant increase over the 5 or 6 recalled in the whole-report method.

These results indicate that we have much more information that enters our systems than we are able to recall. It is also probable that this information will be processed at some level.

This finding may be taken as indirect evidence supporting Buzan's suggestion that we learn to speed read by, in part, increasing the use of our peripheral vision.

As demonstrated by the Sperling study, much more information enters our systems than simply the stimuli on which we are directly focusing.

Buzan also points out that we are often guilty of back-skipping or returning to what we have already read for fear that we missed something important.

However, given the tremendous amount of redundant information that we receive, the chance of missing something is rather slim. We read not only by recognizing individual words but also by utilizing the context of the words.

For example, we may not know the meaning of a particular word but may be able to infer its meaning by how it is used in the sentence.

An interesting study demonstrating this context effect in the perception of speech was conducted by Warren & Warren (1970). Subjects were presented with sentences such as "It was found that the *eel was on the axle", "It was found that the *eel was on the shoe", "It was found that the "eel was on the orange", and "It was found that the "eel was on the table".

In each instance the * was replaced by non-speech. While subjects all were presented with the word "eel", they reported hearing the word "wheel" in the first sentence, "heel" in the second sentence, "peel" in the third sentence and "meal" in the fourth sentence. In other words, they used context rather than decoding the actual word presented to comprehend the sentences.

During rapid reading it would appear that, since we chunk greater items (phrases rather than individual words), emphasis would be more on context rather than the individual word.

The results of the above study suggest that even if a word was presented "wrong", we would read it "right". This would suggest that back-skipping would be quite unlikely to point out something important that we had missed. In addition, it appears that information critical to words in isolation, such as the '"h" in "wheel", becomes redundant when the word is read in context.

It was brought up in this section, that, when one reads slowly, the brain wanders. This may be due to the fact that, when words are read slowly, they no longer resemble speech and the reader or listener loses interest and concentration.

A recent study investigating the effects of rapid reading on first-grade children was conducted by Breznitz (1988).

Breznitz had previously observed that children from lower socioeconomic environment (LSES) performed worse on reading tasks than children from higher socioeconomic environments (HSES).

He hypothesized that the performance differences might be eliminated by prompting the LSES group to read faster.

Two groups of children, Group 1 representing the LSES children and Group 2 representing the HSES children, were required to read sentences at a self-pace rate and answer questions regarding the sentences.

The sentences were presented on computers.

In a second test, the subjects were again required to read and answer sentences, but the rate was increased by approximately 20% of the self-pace rate.

The results showed that, at the initial self-pace rate, the LSES groups read the sentences more slowly, made more oral reading errors, and obtained lower comprehension scores than the HSES group. However, when the groups read at the faster pace, there were no difference between groups in error rate, while the groups still differed in comprehension, due to the fact that both groups improved their comprehension rate.

The evidence suggest that reading at a faster rate will have dramatic effects on performance.

Breznitz suggests that reading at a faster rate will:
(1) increase the amount of material available to short term memory;
(2) increase comprehension, since the reading rate will more closely match the rate of speaking;
(3) reduce distractibility by reducing the empty spaces between syllables, words and phrases.

All of these ideas substantiate Buzan's points emphasized in this section.

The experimental evidence strongly supports Buzan's emphasis on Range Reading. As he suggests, by utilizing peripheral vision, we can take in more information into our iconic stores and short term memory stores. By eliminating back-skipping, we can reduce the time spent reading redundant information. And by practicing speed reading we can decrease the number of errors and increase our comprehension.

The applications of this information are quite clear. By practicing speed reading, you can take in a tremendous amount of information with virtually 100% comprehension. Having this kind of information at your disposal will greatly increase the number of people you can reach and the number of levels on which you can communicate.


Anderson JR. Cognitive psychology and implications. WH Freeman & Company, NY; 1985.

Breznitz Z. Reducing the gap in reading performance between Israeli lower and middle class first-grade pupils. The Journal of Psychology. 1988;121(5):491-501.

Sperling GA. The information available in brief visual presentation. Psychological Monographs. 1960;74:498.

Warren RM, Warren RP. Auditory illusions and confusions. Scientific American. 1970;223:30-36