Firstly, what exactly is chunking? Well, it is what it sounds like! It’s grouping bits of information together, whether it’s numbers or words, to make them easier to remember and recall.
Normally, our short-term memory has a limit of holding 2-4 pieces of information. Now that’s not a lot and, if we can’t improve this, increasing your reading speed will be more difficult. The trick is to remember information in “chunks” so that you can actually retain up to 16 pieces of information, possibly even more.
Let’s take your bank card. There is a 16-digit number on the front, split into four groups. If we tried to remember all 16 numbers with no gaps, you would find it fairly difficult. However, splitting these numbers into four groups of four is much more manageable and makes it much easier to memorize.
Your brain then decides if it’s important enough to remember and whether to store it in long-term memory. If it is important (like your bank card number or a phone number), it helps to create a vivid visual image that will stick in your mind. This is harder to do with numbers, though not impossible, it is easily something you can learn to do with words as you implement the chunking method.
“Normal” readers will often read one word at a time, which is clearly not an efficient way to read quicker. As discussed in the last lesson, you need to create visual images (activating the right-hand side of your brain) and use chunking as part of this process. Training yourself to read two, then three, then four words at one time will drastically reduce the time you spend reading, and you may already do this some of the time without even realizing it!
For example, think about signs that say “No entry” or “Caution Wet Floor”. You don’t read these words individually to understand them, you can read and understand them instantly, like seeing a picture. Of course, this is helped by recognizing the familiar vivid colours or symbols, but it still shows that you can absorb chunks of text extremely fast.
Similarly, phrases like “Once upon a time” or “every cloud has a silver lining” can usually be read and understood very quickly. This is because you know the phrase, can predict what comes next, and so have no need to read every single word. They can also generate an image in your mind, making them easier to remember and help you to understand what the text is saying.
Now you just need to practice doing this so you get this sensation with other words and whole sections of text. There are several ways you can practice this, starting with chunks of two words. You can try using your finger to point/move along the line, making sure you miss out on every other word. Alternatively, you can split up the text more obviously into columns, so you force yourself to read the text two words at a time. This is likely to take some getting used to and can also tire your eyes out quite quickly, so only do this for 10-15 minutes at a time.
Next lesson, we will take a closer look at how your brain works and look at building your “memory palace”. This will help you to store even more information and make it easier to recall, which is a valuable skill for anyone wanting to speed read.