I’ve always believed that my childhood love for reading was a foundational building block for my debate career. As I became increasingly engrossed in debate, I began to realize that my ability to read quickly was invaluable. Recently I became curious to see if I was the only one who felt this way, and so I reached out to several successful high school debaters, asking them all the same question: has a high reading speed benefited your debate career? The answer, as I suspected, was a resounding yes.
Before we get too far, let’s establish what I’m not trying to communicate with this article. I’m not saying that debaters who read quickly will succeed, and that those who don’t read quickly won’t. Of course, there are other factors that will help decide how successful you are. What I am trying to say is this: teaching yourself to read faster should improve your overall debate experience, regardless of your current reading pace or level of success, as you simultaneously develop a powerful real-world skill.
From personal experience and from my conversations with other debaters, I’ve identified three main ways that increasing your reading pace will benefit you.
- Pre-Round Research
It hopefully should not come as a surprise to you that reading faster will help with your research leading up to a tournament. More time spent reading an article to find out whether or not it is helpful is less time spent adding strategy and better impacts to your briefs. No matter how fast you currently read, you would benefit from time gained by increasing your pace. If you need five very specific articles, and you have an hour of free time, a faster reading pace may mean that you have the time to take a power nap or raid the pantry before your next task.
- In-Round Prep
When the round actually starts, managing time wisely is of critical importance. With a very limited amount of prep time, you cannot afford to spend several minutes looking over evidence or cases. On affirmative, reading quickly allows you to search for flaws in the negative team’s evidence without wasting all of your prep time which you so desperately need for the 1AR. On negative, it’s even more beneficial. Reading faster means a more in-depth analysis of the 1AC, but it also cuts down on the time you spend flipping through briefs, trying to find that one piece of evidence that you know you have somewhere.
- In-Round Delivery
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, reading faster can improve how you deliver arguments to the judge. Looking ahead as you read a card allows you to put special emphasis on impactful words, or to identify less important sentences that can be skipped. This might sound insignificant, but it can be the difference between the judge hearing an excellent orator, and the judge hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Debate applications aside, being able to read and process information quickly is a valuable real-world skill that will serve you the rest of your life, in a variety of ways.
Of course, the simplest way to improve your reading speed is to read more. Reading when you have free time is beneficial for debate, but it is typically educational and can often be more fun than watching videos online, etc. The more practice you get, the faster you will be, and the more you will comprehend. But while reading more will slowly increase your pace, there are a few ways to accelerate the process that should be kept in mind.
The first of these is to stay conscious of your speed. If you are not staying aware of your pace, increasing the pace is difficult. Your brain needs to get familiar with the feeling of reading faster than normal, the way you would read your neg brief with only a few seconds of prep time. Staying conscious of your speed allows you to pick up the pace and go beyond what you are comfortable with.
Secondly, focus on reducing subvocalization. The biggest roadblock between most people and a faster reading speed is subvocalization, or pronouncing the words in your head. It’s faster to read words in your head than out loud, and in the same way, it’s faster to read words in your head without subconsciously vocalizing them. This may be difficult at first, but if you stay conscious and put in the mental work to reduce subvocalization, it won’t be too long before your speed drastically increases and you reap the benefits.
Finally, stay mindful of your comprehension. Reading incredibly quickly has absolutely zero benefit if you cannot retain anything that you read. After you finish a section, chapter, article, etc., ask yourself, “What did I just learn?” and repeat it back to yourself. Doing this exercise will help you make sure that you’re not sacrificing speed for comprehension. Similarly, make sure that you aren’t re-reading things. Reading twice as fast has no advantage if you have to read the content twice.
In conclusion, making a conscious effort to read faster can help your debate career tremendously, while also helping you build a tool that you can use forever. And if you’re not sure what to read, look no further than the wealth of knowledge that is the Ethos Blog!