Posted in Blog Archive

Posted by abeodbart August 10, 2009 at 9:04 am

How much more could you get done if you completed all of your required reading in 1/3 or 1/5 the time?

Increasing reading speed is a process of controlling fine motor movement—period.

This post is a condensed overview of principles I taught to undergraduates at Princeton University in 1998 at a seminar called the “PX Project”. The below was written several years ago, so it’s worded like Ivy-Leaguer pompous-ass prose, but the results are substantial. In fact, while on an airplane in China two weeks ago, I helped Glenn McElhose increase his reading speed 34% in less than 5 minutes. I have never seen the method fail. Here’s how it works…

Four Hour Week

Derren Fact: DB can read at speeds of over 65,000 words per minute with the right book, a very strong coffee and with a recall rate of just over 94%. However after 5-6 minutes he starts emitting smoke from his ears and always states that he does not enjoy it.

August 10, 2009 at 9:15 am
Anomoly says:

very cool

August 10, 2009 at 9:16 am
Anomoly says:

very interesting. I will have to look into this further.

August 10, 2009 at 10:13 am
flapjack says:

Does this A,E,I,O,U thing actually work or does it result in irritable vowel syndrome? I guess I’ll have to practice it and see.

August 10, 2009 at 10:31 am
Ms G says:

Oh, mine is not all stable .. sometimes I fly over the text and read the correct words .. sometimes I fly and read something completely different than there was and at other times I stutter … my brain just does not want to see it as it is way too busy with other way more important/interesting stuff or it just says … NO, I don’t wanna ….

Sofar I did not need a speed course … Life itself does not reallly ask for those things if you just plan your things good. You will see that you have all the time of the world .. Do you want that, that is the question .. some prefer having deadlines all the time to get stimulated at all ..

August 10, 2009 at 11:04 am
Siobhan says:

In some respects speed reading would be incredibly useful (thinking of dull work reports etc), but when reading for pleasure surely you would miss the finer nuances of the language, and could your emotional reaction to the words keep up with the speed at which you are devouring them?

Just postulating, can youa ctually enjoy a text fully when speed reading it? (I honestly don’t know!)

August 10, 2009 at 12:03 pm
c00 says:

Derren, how fast can you really read and understand the book? I obviously doubt the statement at the bottom 😛 65k words per minute. Would be cool…

August 10, 2009 at 12:25 pm
phillis says:

@ c00 DB first attempted this feat on TV in the British Library. He had a book selected at random – he then sat and read the whole thing – around a page every few seconds and had a pretty high recall rate when asked about the page number.

@flapjack – the AEIOU is actually a bit misleading – I tend to silence my thoughts – or imaging a buzz in my head. It’s a really horrible feeling at first and your comprehension is a little low which is frustrating – like DB says it’s not enjoyable reading – but for crunching docs it’s excellent. Expect about a 30% recall rate at first. You’ll get faster and better with practice (I use the Metro or the Guardian – the columns are really easy to scan).

August 10, 2009 at 12:53 pm
Kevin says:

Thanks for this. I’ve been aware of speedreading but your technique in this is very helpful. It’s unfortunate that the school systems are teaching the ‘average’ way of reading. Any ideas on how we could teach children to read more optimally?

August 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm
flapjack says:

Thanks Phillis – I’d like to think i could take in a book by reading it that rapidly, but I don’t claim to be anywhere as intelligent as yourself or Derren.
I have a large heap of books on my bedside table which are waiting to be finished, and I worry that if I read them this quick using this method I wouldn’t remember a single thing about what I’d just read! How long before you actually start to absorb all the information?

August 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm
roz says:

how much did he recall the next day? 😛

August 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm
jameshogg says:

I can’t quite remember what I’ve just read when I try this. It’s like you don’t give your brain time to analyse and compare the information o.O

August 10, 2009 at 2:42 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Lol @ irritable vowel syndrome.
Phillis is my favourite human for posting this. Assuming Phillis is human, of course.

August 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Very cool! I tried it but I didnt really comprehend much of what I was reading, lets hope I get better with time!

August 10, 2009 at 4:48 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

@Phillis…could you please take a piccie of Derren whilst the steam comes smoking out of his ears? :-)

August 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm
teufelaffe says:

Hmmm…I already read ~800wpm, without any special training that I am aware of. However, since my mother has dual degrees in Psychology and Biology, I’m beginning to wonder if she did something to help my reading along when I was little. Definitely something to ask her the next time we talk. :)

August 10, 2009 at 6:57 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

But don’t set himon fire to recreate the effect, that would be wrong.

August 10, 2009 at 7:09 pm
Steve says:

I’m always suspicious of things like this. It seems too good to be true. If this was really possible then why isn’t it common knowledge? Just wondered!

August 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm

It’s been well over 20 minutes (looks like at least 6 hours) since this was posted, and none of the commenters seem to have indicated that it’s worked for them. Surely someone’s spent 20 minutes trying this exercise by now?

I’m willing to give it a shot, but I’m skeptical of it working, at least with only 20 minutes of practice.

August 10, 2009 at 8:35 pm
Xico Watson says:

Speedreading holds no interest for me. Quality of thought and retention is much more important. Synthesizing something from newly read texts from various sources, ideas percolating in mind, and prior experience are much more time-consuming that merely reading new text.

August 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm
Dan says:

Huh? How can this possibly work? It doesn’t with me, anyway! I just can’t even comprehend the sentence I’m reading because I’m too aware of the fact I’m saying “1234” all the time! Ridiculous. It’s a joke, right?

August 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm
Flip_Flop says:

i’d love to be able to do this, it would be so helpful to be able to flick through the large amount of journal articles i need to read. i will try and practice it every day until i return to uni

isnt this similar to the method derren used on a ‘trick or treat’ episode where he got a guy to run his hand down the pages of a huge amount of books. he too felt like nothing was going in, but he did pretty well in the final quiz!!

thanks to posting this phillis!!

August 10, 2009 at 10:00 pm

This is interesting. Probably the most informative article i have seen on the subject since you demonstrated so well with video.

I would like to know, does this affect comprehension in any way? Does it have any effects on anything else?
I speed read the Tribes book by Seth Godin, but have to say it rather exhausted me, and i felt that going slower would have been more enjoyable even if it took longer.

What are your thoughts please?

August 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm
Jacob says:

I think some of the posters are confusing his training technique with the reading technique. The vocalization of AEIOU or 12345 during the training is intended to prevent you from sub-vocalizing the text. Once you have practiced the substituted vocalization, it will be easier for you to read without your larynx. I have never tried this technique, as I have always been able to switch between both reading methods. While you are substituting the arbitrary vocalization your comprehension is likely to be nil. However, once you have separated your reading from your larynx, you can stop vocalizing AEIOU and your comprehension will increase.

When you are reading poetry or prose that may have phonetic styling, this method would pretty much eliminate your perception of that. However, when reading the news, long data tables, or documentation, it is much easier to scan with your eyes than to vocalize the text that is being read.

A major factor is eye movement. When I read quickly, I might only focus my eyes a few times per line, depending on page width and font size. When you are vocalizing each word you tend to move your eyes from word to word, which is slow. I have even watched some people reading letter to letter and sounding out words that they know very well.

August 10, 2009 at 11:21 pm
Steve says:

I’m not saying you can’t increase your reading speed to an extent by practicing, but this is just crazy. Think about it: Catcher in the Rye in 10 minutes? Obviously can’t be done. Brains just can’t take in that much info in that little time. If they could, more people than just Derren would be able to do it. Sorry to always be the cynic!

August 11, 2009 at 12:49 am
Nick says:

I thought In his book Derren poo pooed the idea of speed reading, but if this is on the up and up is there any recommended further reading Philis?

August 11, 2009 at 12:58 am
tomboing says:

I don’t want to speed-read any more than I want to speed-eat. Much of the pleasure of good writing comes from the mouth-feel of the words, and you could almost say the way the diffrerent flavors (“oo” versus “ck,” for examples) the different consonant and vowel sounds have when vocalized. And it seems to me there is also a better grasp of what is being said if I take in written ideas at a speed close to the speed of speech.

I’m talking about good writing. Bad writing can be speed-read without much loss of pleasure, since there is (by my definition) little pleasure to be had from bad prose. Then the only thing worth having is the ideas. If the ideas are good but badly written, reading slowly might actually result in more miscomprehension than speed-reading, on the same principle of being able to find the cereal you want in the cereal aisle if you skim the shelves rather than focusing on each box in turn.

August 11, 2009 at 2:34 am
kischiman says:

There is a lot of spam in this entry actually…
Anyway, I knew that one and it’s pretty good and works fine! And the thing with 65k words is called photoreading (as I remember) and works, as phillis mentioned, with the right kind of book and the needed concentration 😉

August 11, 2009 at 3:19 am
whodat says:

oh weird
thought the secret was going to be “you just have to want it”
wrong again&?^@%!

August 11, 2009 at 3:28 am
Fred says:

Yeah, read faster and comprehend a lot less. If this stuff is not in any peer-reviewed journals, there is a reason …

August 11, 2009 at 7:46 am
mary says:

the larynx isnt really used is it? i always thoughts one inner commentary was purely produced in the brain?!

August 11, 2009 at 8:32 am
Geoff says:

I’m extremely sceptical, the article makes no solid reference to an increase in comprehension or retention which is the entire point in reading. I for one, cannot see the point in being able to read at 65000 words per minute if you dont perceive or remember a single iota of what you read.

I only note this because although I’m an averagely intelligent person, I have to read something about 10 times in order to get the same comprehension and retention as the next person.

August 11, 2009 at 9:28 am
phillis says:

On Cleveland’s Morning Exchange, Howard completed an 1100 page book and scored a perfect score on recall. He was retested three years later on the same book using his recall from the previous show again with perfect recall. Dick Cavett had Berg memorize his autobiography in 90 seconds and he demonstrated perfect recall. On Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Berg memorized a 200 page book, “Going to the Movies,” by Quentin Crisp, and scored 100% on the extensive test given by the author.

August 11, 2009 at 11:55 am
Erik says:

65000 words per minute my ass. That is 1000(!) words per second.

This article has 165 words, i don’t think he can read 6 articles like that in just a second.

August 11, 2009 at 12:31 pm
Rob says:

I think some of you are missing the humour in the artical. reading at 65,000 words a minute would be turning a page (which holds 400 words on average) every 0.37 seconds (which looks a very pretty fan if you try it).


August 11, 2009 at 12:35 pm
Siobhan says:

Apparently, according to their system to work out your wirds per minute I read at a rate of 650wpm at the moment, that can’t be right can it?
They say the average is 250wpm, but i don’t think that I read particularly quickly, can we get a DB blog average for people reading normally?

Did anyone else work theirs out?

August 11, 2009 at 3:28 pm
phillis says:

@Rob – humor? Moi? Never – I have even collected the smoke from Derren’s ears and used it to purify crystals.

August 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm
Rob says:

@phillis like we would ever doubt you :-)


August 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm
ReliegiousMarie says:

The whole process of speadreading is one of maximum-recycling…heh, that could have been a greenpeace quote!

August 11, 2009 at 5:12 pm
Dave says:

well, i know Derren tried this on telly, but in his book he wrote that speed reading is not working…which leads me to the assumption that he used something else to achieve this stunt…

August 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

I think he wrote that most speed reading courses and the methods they sell are a big pile of crap, actually. But he probably worded it better than that, which is one of the many reasons he writes books and I don’t. I ahve a list of reasons, pretty sure “being better at saying things than I am” is on it somewhere.

August 11, 2009 at 6:18 pm
Vale says:

This is such bullshit. Recall rate of 94%? When, immediately after? What about deep comprehension and understanding? 64k words per minute? Come on, if you’re going to be outrageous, at least make it believable.

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” – Woody Allen

August 11, 2009 at 6:42 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Vale, I disagree. Derren Brown probably doesn’t even open most books, just stares them down until they give him the information, and when he DOES speed-read it seems perfectly plausible to me that he’d have smoke pouring out of his ears. The friction of all those words going through the brain at once would totally start a fire and I can imagine the ears acting like a chimney.

August 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm
quaskx says:

some people can naturally read very quickly without losing comprehension or pleasure so if this technique is one that allows you to mimic such people, then it’s really cool. but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean speed reading doesn’t exist or is less preferable to “normal” reading, since natural speed readers don’t have to try to read quickly because that’s what’s normal for them.

August 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm
anon says:

The comma in the 20 word sentence is not required. The sentence should read:
They ran around town all day long and never stopped chasing after one another.
If the comma is desired, the sentence can correctly be:
They ran around town all day long, and they never stopped chasing after one another.

August 12, 2009 at 3:31 am
phillis says:

@anon you would not have spotted this if you were reading a bit quicker – yet another advantage to speed reading.

August 12, 2009 at 4:09 am
mitja says:

I’ve tried this in transit today (luckily the tram in Toronto on Queen St. was taking forever so I had a bit of time) and I can confirm it works, somewhat.

I’ve compared reading slowly versus the aforementioned technique, and looking back at what I’ve read on the topic before, it seems to me the idea is to drown out your own ‘voice’. I’ve personally noticed that, when reading slowly, I indeed tend to silently pronounce all the words, which doesn’t necessarily improve comprehension. With technical books it’s quite the opposite usually.

However, when repeating something like 12345, IOUAY or anything that does not require thought, the internal voice becomes preoccupied with pronouncing that freeing the pathway from eyes to the brain.

Or something like that.

At the very least I noticed I’m focusing far less on the links between the words and more on the words and keywords themselves. Can’t say I can read with my peripheral vision while looking in the middle of a page quite yet but definitely faster.

August 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm
ScreamingGreenConure says:

Did you repeat AEIOU while on a crowded tram in Toronto? Because if so, you are my favourite human of the day.

August 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm

[…] How to read faster in 20 minutes. […]

August 12, 2009 at 8:27 pm
Winterpale says:

Catcher in the Rye 73,404 words (

Words per minute suggested 1,200

Actual time (73404/1200) just over an hour.

Sorry to be a pedant.

August 12, 2009 at 9:50 pm

[…] to read faster? The video at the link describes a method of decoupling your speech center, which is useful because vocalizing as you read […]

August 13, 2009 at 6:35 pm
teller says:

“The photosynthesis process in chloroplasts begins when an electron of P680 of PSII attains an higher-energy level. This energy is used to reduce a chain of electron acceptors which have subsequently lowered redox-potentials. This chain of electron acceptors is known as an electron transport chain.”
Good luck with that sentence

August 13, 2009 at 11:39 pm
ricoculous says:

August 14, 2009 at 12:17 am
Danny says:

I have dyslexia and find reading hard at time. sometimes i have to skip a word and read around it to make the word out. So i cant see how this would work for me however i like he idea that it could work haha
ps i have only just found this blog its amazing

August 14, 2009 at 11:36 pm

[…] An interesting theory of how some people read fast, and more […]

August 16, 2009 at 2:33 am
Valerie Robinson says:

Very interesting theory and concept. Will try and see how well this will work.

August 16, 2009 at 2:35 am
Valerie Robinson says:

I bookmark this site! Very interesting theory and concept. Will review and look for other articles as well.

August 23, 2009 at 4:20 pm
Jon C says:

Intresting theory. I wonder where he learned this from because i feel its incomplete. I tried looking for other online sources too and “revitupreading” worked really well. The tips section alone helpful.

August 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm
Amit says:

This is great Video!
a good method to increase the read speed is to try to use the hand and to use the finger when you are reading.
Just go on the lines with your finger.
it will help you to stay focus and not to read the same line twice…

Another great website for more speed reading tips:
try it!

September 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Thanks for posting my video here. You can view the rest of my videos on my website at

September 25, 2009 at 2:46 am
Dave says:

Vocalization is not a bad habit!

Sentences are usually made of multiple phrases. Each phrase is a separate thought. When you hear a sentence spoken, there are sound clues that indicate these phrases. Listen carefully to the previous sentence when it’s divided into phrases…

When you hear — a sentence spoken, — there are sound clues — that indicate — these phrases.

If you listen carefully to the spoken words, you will notice that the first word of each phrase is spoken in a lower pitch. We vocalize to find them.

There is a free online tool which will take any text and convert it into its natural phrases. It will then display these phrases one after another at your control, or automatically with an adjustable speed control. Try it at

November 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Dave knows that I disagree with him, and you can read our discussion that occurred through another website: DailyBlogTricks at:

Also, for anyone who is looking for a more substantial set of exercises on speed reading, I released my workbook today. It’s a six-week, 366 page, course book that goes over all of the methods and exercises that I’ve taught in my videos in more detail. It’s FREE for download and sharing and the print version for purchase will be available later this week.

Hope everyone enjoys,

Kris Madden

December 18, 2009 at 5:01 pm

An alternative: hum when you read. Engages larynx but requires less thought than counting.

June 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm
Richard says:

I have been trying this method out for some days and it has had a significant result. I find it interesting people saying that you won’t comprehend anything with this method. It needs practice. Your brain is not used to this kind of reading, mine certainly wasn’t.

At first I didn’t catch on what I was reading and felt a headache from the strain but with time I noticed my eyes “caught” the word instead of having to internally vocalize to assimilate it, allowing me to read a line much faster.

It is not perfect yet. I don’t have perfect recollection but I do retain the general message of a text and with given time I end up remembering specific details.

Mix this technique with others like vocalizing to emphasize or slowing down important moments and you have a set of skills to help you.

July 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I was at a conference in Bern last month where a researcher did a meta-analysis of all the different techniques for increasing reading speed- they all failed.


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