Reading Speed, or Why I Avoid Video Blogs

Reading vs. Speaking

In the Forbes article, “Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?” Brett Nelson explores the reading habits of highly successful people compared to those of the average reader. We are swamped with information that we can’t possibly consume and comprehend unless we prioritize it and prune away the non-essentials. If you read at an average pace of 250-300 words per minute, you would need to “set aside at least two hours of reading every day just to keep up—you know, when you’re not doing other stuff like working, eating and spending time with your family.” It’s no wonder infographics are popular; if you can crunch 300 words into a single, visual image that can be understood and remembered at a glance, you’ve saved over a minute’s worth of reading, on average.

I took Staples’ “What speed do you read?” test, and was surprised to learn that my reading speed was well above average, at about 700 words per minute. It varies – 528, when bleary-eyed and insufficiently caffeinated, to 930 on an immediate retake. You have to be honest with yourself, if you take the test more than once – the passage and quiz don’t change.

According to the “Words per minute” entry at Wikipedia, the recommended rate of speech for audiobooks is a mere 150–160 words per minute, which is the range that people comfortably hear and vocalize words. Note that this is about half the average reading speed. If you want to increase your reading speed, make sure you’re not subvocalizing (whispering, or hearing in your head) each word as you read it. Slide presentations tend to be even slower – about 100-125 wpm for a “comfortable pace.” Various factors, including nervousness, affect speech rates, but the fastest is 637.

This led to a sudden understanding of why I don’t like getting my information from TV and YouTube: audio and video are simply too slow. It would take me four times as long – at best – to get the same information I can get by reading. But for the average reader, it’s not that much slower – and it’s certainly less laborious – than reading.

That said, having the TV news on in the background, while brushing my teeth and getting dressed, allows me to “skim” the news highlights.

Learning: Back to Basics

For years, people have discussed various “styles” of learning: visual, auditory, kinesthetic. According to “Learning Styles Debunked: There is No Evidence Supporting Auditory and Visual Learning, Psychologists Say,” “No less than 71 different models of learning styles have been proposed over the years. … But psychological research has not found that people learn differently, at least not in the ways learning-styles proponents claim. Given the lack of scientific evidence, the … currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources.” This is reassuring to me, given that some online test I took years ago suggested that the right and left sides of my brain had switched places, and I had gone from being primarily an auditory learner to a more visual-kinesthetic one. I assumed it was an age thing, and the apparent effects of aging were startling. But now, I wonder – if I remove the scapegoat of “aging,” it seems much more likely that the shift is due to environmental factors. Perhaps, as a student, I trained myself to pay attention to what the instructor was saying (even as I practiced daydreaming and staring out the window, I had near-perfect recall of the lecture). I read more – partly out of necessity, but mostly for pleasure. In the corporate world, there’s no primary “auditory” or “visual” or “kinesthetic” mode of consuming information. Old habits die hard, but they do die, and are replaced by different ones. We learn to pay attention to what we think we’re going to need, and brain-dump the rest.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, professor and director of graduate studies in psychology at the University of Virginia and author of several books, explains, in “Cone of learning or cone of shame?” why the ‘learning pyramid’ is wrong and says, “It’s usually a good bet to try to think about material at study in the same way that you anticipate that you will need to think about it later.” It follows that if we think we won’t need the information later, we don’t store it – or we store it in the broom closet of the brain and forget about it.

Willingham asks, in his blog, “Do we underestimate our youngest learners?” I think so. Underestimating children is a common adult mistake, and can lead to some pretty boring children’s books. It’s one of the worst, and most annoying habits of many aspiring writers. But I wonder if that’s not partly because, as adults, we’re acutely aware of how much there is to know, and it seems overwhelming. Children are naturally curious and hungry for knowledge, and their capacity for absorbing it is fairly limitless – probably because no one has yet told them how hard it is to learn, or that their brains have a finite capacity for it.





Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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10 thoughts on “Reading Speed, or Why I Avoid Video Blogs”

  1. Well… I think it really depends more on what you’re wanting to do at the time before deciding which way to go. I mean, you didn’t say you stopped watching TV or videos or listening to audio altogether right? lol

    For me, when I’m at work I put on videos or audio because I can listen to them, even the movies. Reading a book while working doesn’t make people appreciate you all that much.

    I read all the time, consume tons of stuff. I need diversion here and there. These days if it has anything to do with fiction I’m probably watching it or listening to it, which I do while traveling. I don’t listen to the radio in the car, so I have my recorded books. And on the plane, sometimes I read, sometimes I listen and close my eyes; depends on my mood.

    However, when I want real information, it’s always some kind of book, either a regular book or an electronic book, which I bought the other day for the Nook. Same with news; I’d rather read the individual story that interests me instead of watching the entire newscast and picking up a snippet of something interesting here and there.

    Did I miss anything? lol
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…What Passes For Good Information Might Not BeMy Profile

    1. I agree with you 100%! I’ll watch a video for entertainment or because I enjoy the vlogger’s personality. I’ll watch Ms. Ileane’s, sometimes, just for the soothing sound of her voice.

      It’s news and instructional videos that drive me a little batty. And audiobooks – oh, God, I hate audiobooks. I want to like them, but they’re narrated so sloooooowly. (I used to have a tape-recorder that would remove unnecessary silent spaces between words without making the speaker sound like a chipmunk – it was GREAT. I wish you could do that with audiobooks on CD!)

      I may watch a “how to” video if the written instructions just aren’t doing it for me – for example, there’s no substitute for someone showing you how to make certain crochet stitches, particularly when you’re a beginner. But I want my “how to” video to get right to it – show me, then let me go away and try it. I don’t want a lot of preliminary explanation or background. I could read that faster and get on with my life. This is a good metaphor for the advice so often given to novice writers: SHOW me, don’t TELL me. (Maybe, too, if I were more of an extrovert and into face-to-face small talk, I might enjoy the “talking heads” type video. And I’ll watch yours, because I know and like you. But if I didn’t? I probably wouldn’t. Others would, though – lots of people, obviously, prefer video. My son spends a good deal of time on YouTube, and very little reading blogs.)

      I really do believe it comes down to how quickly we consume different types of information, and our relative patience. If my reading speed were closer to the average speaker’s speed, I think I’d have much more interest in video and audio than I do now.

      As for the news, my real problem with newscasts is their coy teasers. “Are School Lunches Causing a Rare, New Type of Brain Tumor in Grade Schoolers? Tune in tomorrow night…” WHAT? AFTER my kid eats lunch tomorrow? Are you KIDDING ME? They’re just evil, sometimes. I don’t like evil people.
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  2. Thanks for that post. I thought perhaps I was abnormal because I much prefer reading text to learn something than watching video or listening to audio.

    Unless webinars or videos are super informative and interesting within the first 2 minutes, I will start doing something else at the same time.

    Exceptions are when the video is critical for the learning process, like finger placement for difficult guitar chords. Or when other wise unable to read, driving for instance when I do listen to recorded podcasts.

    I took the reading test and scored 447 unrehearsed, however I know that I read “real” words on paper in books or magazines I can hold in my hands, considerably faster than words on a computer screen or e-reader.

    Perhaps I need new glasses or maybe it’s just an age thing!

    Thanks for putting my mind at rest Holly.
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    1. Thank YOU, Peter – obviously, I need a few more data points to confirm my theory, but I’ve thought I was the odd one, until I understood what was probably causing me to balk at video (and, as you mentioned, webinars). Slide presentations, too, come to think of it! Lord, no wonder my brain sometimes disengages during meetings. It’s not that they’re boring – it’s that they’re going way too slowly!
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  3. Now I’m curious about how quickly I read LOL I know it’s faster than my husband, but only if there aren’t images involved. He processes pictures (comics, graphic novels, whatever) far faster than I do, but I read words quicker than him. It could be interesting to test those levels under a variety of circumstances 🙂

    1. I’d never thought of it in those terms, either, Rhonda! I suspect a lot of people process images faster than I do, too – although I think I get them fairly quickly, as I’ve had to explain cartoons to people who were still making baffled faces at them. But I know MANY people who prefer to get their info from a bar chart, not a table. I like details; many prefer a quick visual summary. There’s a happy middle ground, most days, but really this has been eye-opening for me.
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  4. Hm. Maybe that’s why I prefer to read texts than to listen to webinars.
    I should go and do that reading speed test. 🙂

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