Abby Marks Beale has been teaching speed-reading for over 25 years. She’s written three book on the subject (including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading) and founded Rev It Up Reading, her online speed reading course for students and professionals. Abby stresses that speed reading is a teachable, strategic approach toward learning and a simple gateway for opening up opportunities: “It’s allowed me to branch out and do more in my life.”
Why is speed reading so important?
[laughing] To whom?
How about students and professionals?
For college student and high school students, and anyone going back to school to further their education, the thing most people have a really hard time with is reading academic material. We’ve never been really taught how to read that material.
Speed reading is a strategy. It’s not speed for speed alone, but speed for encouraging focus and concentration.
When I talk about speed reading, I’m talking about redeveloping your reading skills to become the best reader you can be. That’s through different techniques, using your eyes and hands, and understanding how things are written.
For businesspeople, it’s more about managing a huge reading workload on paper and on screen. So many people who I meet, when I tell them I teach speed reading, they say, “Oh, I could use that.” Nobody’s had strategy lessons in reading. Everybody loves it when I tell them they can learn to speed-read.
At what point did you decide to teach speed reading?
I hated reading. I never felt satisfied when I read. I would reread and reread, but I didn’t feel like I got much out of it. Even through my undergraduate years, I didn’t know this stuff. I struggled like everyone else did. Once I had my degree, I got a job with a company that taught kids speed reading and study skills. So I got trained in how to do it, and I worked in this company for a couple years. At one point it occurred to me: It’s not just kids who need it. It’s adults. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I left the company, but I knew there was a niche here. I even offered it to the company I worked for, but they turned me down. So I said “I’ll do it myself.”
That was 25 years ago. I really felt strongly about it. I still do. It’s so simple; it really isn’t hard. Just a little bit of education that goes such a long way to developing reading skills.
What differs between a speed reader’s approach to reading versus an average reader’s approach toward reading?
One difference is that non-speed-readers are passive, mindless and unconscious. People who speed-read are active, mindful and conscious. So if you think of the difference between the two approaches, it’s huge. Speed readers are engaged with what they’re reading: How and what they’re reading, where they’re reading it, what strategies they’re using to read, instead of “I’ll just let my brain soak this in.”
I’ve known these skills for 25 years. I still need to mentally tell myself what to do when I’m reading. It never becomes a natural thing, because a natural thing is passive, mindless and unconscious. And this works.
So why isn’t this skill taught as part of regular school or university curriculum?
That’s a question people have asked me for 25 years. I can only say, number one, people don’t know about it, and number two, budgets. As a school administrator, if you don’t have the knowledge, you’re not going to search for the money for it. Schools probably feel like they give enough of the basics, and they can’t afford more. But it would make students’ lives easier. It should be taught in teacher colleges, especially those for teachers teaching in high school. I have an online course that takes seven hours. Don’t tell me you can’t fit that into your curriculum! It’s not like a 45-hour course. You don’t need that much time to get enough of the basics.
I think a lot of people inversely correlate speed reading with retention. How are these two skills related?
What I help people understand is that when you read, the eyes and the brain have a conversation. They’ve been talking the same way for years. When we show people how to move their eyes differently, their brain hasn’t yet caught on. There’s a temporarily drop in retention, at least on the conscious level. It takes a little while for the eyes and brain to create a new conversation. People understand that it’s a temporary dip; sometimes it takes a day, and sometimes it comes back within the four hours of class. But there’s this feeling of “I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m not as confident about comprehension.” It’s all about the unlearning process.
People are reading differently than they used to—shorter amounts, in quicker bursts of time, online or on tablets. How are people’s changing reading habits and media affecting the way you teach speed reading?
I have, thankfully, a colleague—Pam Mullan, an assistant professor at a college. Pam did her dissertation on reading onscreen. I met her about 12 years ago. She’s helped me come up with simple adaptations to the paper method for reading onscreen. That’s been the biggest change.
Have you heard of Evelyn Wood? If you’re under 30 or 35, you probably haven’t. Evelyn Wood started the speed reading concept in the 1950s. She used to have physical offices all across the country that taught these classes. She’s become the name associated with speed reading. She passed away in 1995. People still ask me, how does my program differ from hers? Okay, she’s dead, number one—and I respect everything she did, but I’m not like her. The primary difference is the Internet, the electronic reading we have to do, compared to what people did in her day.
What do you love about your job?
I’ll be honest. I’m very passionate about speed reading. And after doing it for 25 years, and writing some books, I’ve maxed out with what I can do with it, except share it more. I’ve taken my speed reading and love of reading, and I’ve learned another profession.
I’ve become a homeopath. I’m not doing homeopathy full-time. I’m making this transition slowly. Because I’m confident in my reading, anybody who knows anything about homeopathy knows that there’s an incredible amount of reading material associated with this field. Over the past several years, I’ve had to add three bookcases to hold it all. It’s incredible. You have to be confident in your reading skills in order to jump into this profession.
What I love the most about speed reading? It’s allowed me to branch out and do more in my life.