Actual reading, as you might know, is done during the fractional seconds in which the eyes fixate. The efficient reader reacts to a number of words at a single fixation: his unit of comprehension is a complete phrase, a thought sequence. The inefficient reader responds to single words, one at a time; or, if his reading is very poor, parts of words, individual syllables.

Thus, to cover a line of print such as is used in some books, a highly-skilled reader might make three or four fixations. After coming to rest at the first point on a new line, his eyes need to move only twice or three times more before he is ready to make a return sweep to the beginning of the next line. After that first fixation, then, there are at most two or three moments of non-focusing, only two or three fractional seconds in which his eyes are not reading. The unskilled reader, on the other hand, may have to move his eyes eight or nine or more times before he has read the whole line: there is a correspondingly greater number of moments of nonreading. This extra time allotted by the poor reader to nonreading accounts in part for his slowness.

But only in part. Suppose there are two boxes in front of you, both nailed to the top of a table. Box A contains a thousand marbles. Box B is empty. It is your job to transfer the marbles from one box to the other. How would you do it?

You could, if you like, pick up the marbles one by one, dropping each into the second box before you picked up another from the first one. That would take a long time. The muscles in your arm and hand would become tired long before you finished. You would be doing your task in as inefficient away as possible.

Or you could pick up the marbles two at a time. That would double your speed. But to do the job as quickly and as efficiently as possible, you would grab up handful after handful. The more you grabbed each time, the sooner you’d be through, and the less you would be likely to tire.

This analogy is admirably applicable to reading. If your eyes photograph only one or two words at a time, the process must perforce be a slow and painful one. However, if your eyes grab up “handfuls” of words, you can read like the wind. The more words you absorb in a single fixation, the faster you read. That is the second part of the reason that increased efficiency in perception can so radically speed up your reading.