Do you ever wonder why some people are able to read books or articles at an insanely fast pace? You might think that they were born that way, but that’s not the entire story. In reality, while genetics always plays an important role, it has been known since at least World War II that the disparity between slower readers and faster readers is more a result of poor reading technique rather than different inherent reading speed limits in our brains.
So what are you doing that slows your reading down so much? Well, it actually comes down to several smaller inefficiencies that you learned to cope with the difficulty of reading during early elementary school. Think of how a child learns to read. They will often use their finger to point at a single word. They will read one word at a time and often sound it out internally or externally. They will focus on comprehending words, putting the words together to form the sentences and then put the sentences together to comprehend a paragraph. Most adults actually keep doing this for the rest of their life in subtler ways.
You may not use your finger to follow each word, but your eyes are almost certainly focused on individual words as you work your way across the page. This fixation on individual words not only tires your eyes from moving thousands of times per page (because there are thousands of words your eye has to refocus on), but it is also extremely slow. Far slower than what your mind is truly capable of processing.
You may not use your actual voice to say the words you see verbally, but I’d bet that there is an internal voice in your mind that is saying the words as you read. This is called “subvocalization” and it probably slows your reading speed by at least 50%.
If you aren’t properly trained in reading, I bet that you find yourself having to reread the same words over and over again (called “regression”) in order to comprehend a paragraph. This is often because you are still focusing on individual words/sentences and trying to comprehend how they fit in the broader chapter/paragraph/book through a bottom-up approach.
If you don’t believe what I am saying, then just think about all of the shit you process effortlessly everyday with no issue. If I walk in the room and meet 6 people, I don’t usually feel the need to subvocalize their individual names, appearances, behaviors, etc. I just immediately recognize them, what they are doing and what they look like right off the bat. All of you do that too. Processing visual text is no different from processing the billions of other pieces of information that you process in your life. There are several books out there with drills that, if followed, will improve your reading speed by at least a factor of 2 or 3. I’ve experienced myself.
Here’s one thing you can do that will speed up your reading: instead of focusing your eyes on individual words, focus your eyes on the spaces between words as you read. Your brain will almost certainly process the text faster and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it feels to read sentences. People who master reading, only need to look at two or three spaces per line of text in order to comprehend it entirely. This ability can be achieved for many people through one or two months of doing relatively brief drills every day.
Most people have the same fundamental problems with mathematics that they do with reading: they learned several inefficient ways of doing things as children to cope with the inherent difficulty of learning the language of mathematics.
Consider the following problem:
What is the sum of the first 100 natural numbers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … + 99 + 100)?
Instinctively, most people will proceed to add the numbers individually. This is inefficient. A much better way to answer this question is to think geometrically.
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … + 99 + 100 can be seen as the iterative construction of two different triangles.
1 (1 ones)
11 (2 ones)
111 (3 ones)
1111 (4 ones)
11111 (5 ones)
111111111…1111 (100 ones)
111111111…111 (99 ones)
111111111…11 (98 ones)
111111111…1 (97 ones)
We can combine the two triangles to get 100 rows of 101 ones, since
1 + 100 = 101
2 + 99 = 101
3 + 98 = 101
and so on.
So using the formula for the area of a square gives us 100 * 101; however, we don’t want to count the same numbers twice so we divide the the product by 2. So the sum of the first 100 numbers is (101*100) / 2 = 5050.
This idea of transforming difficult arithmetic problems into easier geometrical problems and transforming difficult geometrical problems into easier algebraic problems or transforming some problem into some other type of problem is one of the key differences that sets excellent math students from mediocre ones who have to study 40 hours a week to get an A or a B in calculus. Learning to find the links between different perspectives is something that is drilled into you just like learning how to speed read.
There are some people who have disabilities that make math harder for them, but most people who struggle in math do so because they did not have the proper guidance to move them out of the inefficient grade school habits that they learned as children in order to cope with those difficulties. There was a time and place for those inefficient methods, but the time for using them is long-gone once you get into algebra and geometry. Unfortunately, school systems around the world didn’t get the memo, so we live in a world that fears math.