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Jim Kwik Speed Reading Course: Legit or Not?

jim kwik spead reading course feature imageThe Kwik Reading program is interesting.

That’s the first word that comes to mind, and in this review, I’ll share with you the good, bad and the ugly.

Transparency first:

There are ZERO affiliate links to any of his products or programs on this page.

Also, I’m technically a “competitor” in the field of memory skills and optimizing how you read.

In fact, I created a successful cohort program called Read with Momentum, partly to create an antidote to the kind of pseudoscience I’ve noted in Mindvalley Super Reading and Jim Kwik’s approach overall.

Frankly, I’m a bit dismayed that someone who claims to read as much as Kwik does wouldn’t know more about pseudoscience and steer clear of it. But as some people say at marketing forums, “you can either be rich or you can be right. But not both.”

Finally, you might imagine that I’m writing this because I’m bitter about an Internet choking to death on ads. Especially ads that compete with my much more organic, search-based approach to reaching people.

Not really. Nor am I jealous of his success. On the contrary, tons of people say they find my blog as a result of his work. And that’s wonderful.

It’s irrelevant anyway because I don’t teach quite the same thing. I teach memory and reading based on what Medieval and Renaissance memory masters like Giordano Bruno did to carry the most important details from books in their minds when they couldn’t carry libraries on their backs. 

And when it comes to reading those books? 

Well, I’ve taught reading at three universities in three different countries. And I guess I just read different material than Jim Kwik is talking about overall, both in form and content.

So with all that in mind, I’m producing this review out of care for the learning community. 

And who knows? Maybe Jim Kwik will read this (at any speed) and consider ways he might make positive changes to his program.

I’m also inspired by Tony Buzan, who although he talked about so-called “speed reading” in ways very similar to quick, also used a very special term:

“Global mental literacy.”

Whether you ever buy anything from me or not, promoting higher abilities to think about what you read is my ultimate aim. I really don’t think reading faster matters at all if you’re reading in the wrong directly.

So the question is:

Will Jim Kwik’s course make you mentally literate? Or will you merely learn how to skim and scan through books?

In this Kwik reading review, you’ll find out.

Who Is Jim Kwik?

Jim Kwik is an American memory trainer or brain coach. According to sources like his interview on Bulletproof Radio, he’s spent much of his career as a speaker focused on corporate events.

Kwik also has a popular podcast and many videos that show him to be an excellent public speaker. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a talented individual, a sharp marketer and successful entrepreneur.

And I can certainly admire his success.

But not without pointing out a few things that raise questions. 

For example, many of Kwik’s advertisements go out of their way to associate him with celebrities like Will Smith.

Fantastic. But what does hanging around with celebrities have to do with reading faster?

Then there are the claims made about performance outcomes after working with Kwik.

Look, even the best of the best can have a bad day. But I can’t help it if my critical thinking skills puts the brakes on when I read an endorsement from Will Smith that says, “Jim Kwik knows how to get the maximum out of me as a human being.”

Is this the same Will Smith who rather brutally slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars? If so, what was Smith reading that day? And how should we frame our expectations of people who endorse programs that profess to make you “superhuman”?

To be clear, I’m not trying to hold Kwik responsible for anything Will Smith or anyone else does in their lives. That would be illogical.

But when people behave that way, no matter how much they might apologize after the fact, it does beg the question of how well they understood what they were reading. Assuming they chose books worth reading in the first place.

The Jim Kwik-MindValley Connection

I also think we need to ask questions about how some of Jim Kwik’s programs are advertised by MindValley.

Yes, MindValley, a company that with at least one ad suggesting you can learn from books, not by reading them, but merely by touching them.

At the time I’m writing this profile, this particular ad has over nine million views. Presumably, the majority of those views were generated from clicks purchased by this company.

No, the ad is not for a Jim Kwik book or course, but this is the kind of material with whom Kwik associates himself and his training products. Claims like these also show up in the Kwik course on reading itself, so now’s the time to play Sherlock and keep these general observations in mind.

Jim Kwik’s Sources?

Information about Jim Kwik’s life is slim and limited to rather polished stories for marketing purposes, I cannot find any information about from whom Kwik learned memory techniques from in either his programs or his book Limitless. If readers are leaders, as he often says, why doesn’t he “lead” you to his sources?

I might be missing scientific and historical references he’s made, and if so, please correct me. Overall, there seems to be a gaping absence of where exactly Kwick learned about mnemonics.

This void makes for a very different learning experience than the one you get from, say, Ron White. White goes out of his way to share his sources by author and title, as does Kevin Trudeau in the opening pages of Mega Memory. The only other memory trainer I know who is mysterious about exactly whom he learned from is Harry Lorayne, who tends to refer to “dusty old books” he found in libraries.

Is this really such a big deal? Yes and no.

Part of the absence of references possibly has to do with making a product popular based on “pattern interrupt” advertising designed to hook you and entice you into a marketing machine. I do some of those things too, and there’s nothing wrong with it (as such). In fact, I learned most of what I know about marketing from Lorayne himself over the phone.

And marketing works, often for the good. As we’ll see, some of Kwik’s reading and retention tips are serviceable. But without precisely the context that makes anything I would call a “course” useful, Kwik’s program is not as powerful as it might be. 

Is the Jim Kwik Speed Reading Course Worth It? My Surprising Answer

In a word, yes.

I’m not sure I believe that any learning experiences are so devoid of value that they aren’t worth at least a glance.

Plus, it’s impossible for anyone to predict what might stimulate you to take action in your reading life. 

Even if a pseudoscientific lesson based around misunderstandings about subvocalization might never work for you, it could bump you in a direction that does lead to results. As Nietzsche pointed out, it’s an uncomfortable fact, but a fact nonetheless that many blatant lies have wound up producing the truth (and vice versa).

In sum, the more educational experiences you allow for yourself, the more you’ll broaden your context. And as I often like to say, “Content might be King, but Context is God.” And the more you know, the more you can know.

What Works, What Doesn’t Work and What You Should Do Instead

If Jim Kwik and I agree on one thing above all, it’s that you are always using 100% of your brain. I really appreciate that he is helping to squash the bizarre myth that anyone could operate otherwise if they were only using part of it.

(Think about it: If part of your brain wasn’t being used, that would mean it was atrophying and dying leading to issues like Alzheimer’s, if not death.)

The Good

Overall, Kwik is a good speaker. The video lessons in the Kwik reading program are action-oriented and clear about what Kwik says worked for him. You won’t be left wondering what you’re supposed to do or how to do those things.

In full transparency, this is a criticism my training programs sometimes receive. And there’s no doubt that the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass has confused some people in the world. 

But I’m also teaching a more robust set of techniques for reading faster. It’s based on university-level skills I learned in graduate school and learned to teach as an instructor at Rutgers University. And in reality, learning these skills require more than exercises. The process requires self-analysis and reflective thinking as you go through such exercises. And the level of metacognition needs to be paired with meaningful, achievable goals.

Another good quality about Kwik’s program is his emphasis on teaching. It’s part of a formula he calls FAST:

  • Forget – What old reading habits will you forget?
  • Active – What motivates you to read? What will you do with your newfound extra time?
  • State – What state do you usually find yourself in when reading? How can you improve this?
  • Teach – How will you teach this to someone else?

I think the program could do with more emphasis on the teaching part. It works because of a principle known to scientists as active recall.

By framing the FAST formula as a set of questions, Kwik is also promoting self-inquiry, which can be very powerful when practiced consistently.

Although the acronym is certainly memorable, working out how to read and remember a text to the point that you can teach it to someone else is not actually fast.

That point aside, another good quality I found in the program is the emphasis on preparing questions before you read. I agree that you don’t need a ton of questions and Kwik is right that quality beats quantity when you want to study effectively.

Finally, there’s an included bonus that is totally consistent with productivity techniques that work: Get off the apps and use BOTS instead (that’s my acronym for Boring Old Technology Succeeding).

I use this technique myself and it just makes common sense. You will almost certainly benefit from it too. This bonus strengths some of the good tips Jim has for you on developing regular reading as a habit.

Along these ideas, there are other activities you’ll learn that gel with the scientifically valid practice of neurobics. But how these techniques tie specifically to reading and comprehending at a faster rate makes sense to me only in a general sense. I can’t see how they concretely boost the outcomes that people desire.

With this point in mind, let’s turn to some of what concerns me.

The Bad

The course suggests some activities that contradict common sense. They also encourage something I see in a lot of courses: the confusion of activity with accomplishment.

For example, Jim talks about reducing subvocalization, which is the idea that you’ll read faster if the muscles in your throat aren’t moving. Because Kwik doesn’t share his sources, it’s impossible to know where he gets such information or why he thinks it works. In my reading of the science on subvocalization that I do take the time to share with you, it’s clear that you need subvocalization to understand. In fact, subvocalizing, along with standard vocalization are likely to help you study faster.

It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding the science, but I get the impression that Kwik hasn’t read it at all. Anecdotally, I’ve got a PhD and read out loud all the time. It’s that important for working out what complex things mean as quickly as possible.

But wait. There’s more. The bad gets worse:

Kwik instructs that you should count backwards while reading to reduce subvocalization. The idea that counting forward or backwards reduces subvocalization is absurd.

By all means, give it a try. But if you want an alternative way to increase subvocalization that will reassert your focus on the actual words you’re reading instead of counting unrelated numbers, give the Thor exercise I share in this video a try:

I think just about everything Kwik says is worth a try, including reading with a pointer. But I personally find having anything between my eyes and the page distracting. (Unless it’s a note taking strategy or a mind map).

I also find a bit of contradiction in Kwik’s pointer advice as well. For example, in an interview, Kwik said:

“We’re outsourcing our brains and memory to technology. Your mobile device is making you stupid.”

Well, putting a finger or a chopstick between your eyes and the page is also using technology, albeit a simpler one. Books themselves are technology.

And his courses are optimized to be easily consumable on mobile, the same place he uses to aggressively advertise his products. Although his criticism has all the media-friendly qualities that will make you feel like you’re not responsible for poor results and the phone in your pocket is, it’s precisely this lack of nuance that is doing much more harm than our toys

If Kwik really believed this, would he really be using pattern-interrupt style marketing to yank your focus away from the educational material you just clicked on?

I mainly wish he would use more fair language around engaging in such activities experimentally and giving you ideas about how to do so. This will help make sure that your activities almost always lead to accomplishment.

The Ugly

Kwik offers some exercises that essentially get you to try and extend your peripheral vision. These are quite reminiscent of the so-called “photoreading” exercises NASA researchers debunked back in 1999. I doubt anything has changed since.

In Kwik’s course, this notion appears as the Infinity Technique. I have reason to believe it’s also influenced by some of the ideas in NLP, for which I was certified while studying pseudoscience in university. (You can perhaps think of me as a kind of “immersion journalist” when it comes to all the courses I’ve completed in order to see what’s behind the hype.)

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with such exercises. They hurt my eyes and gave me a headache, but that’s my anecdotal experience. But Kwik gives no substantial reason why these exercises exist, where they come from, or how expanding peripheral vision has anything to do with reading faster. The words are on the pages of the books, after all, not in the space surrounding them.

Given the long history of speed reading programs that have duped even American presidents, it would be nice to see some solid evidence between the why and how Jim Kwik thinks such eye manipulation activities work and where specifically he got the routines from. Especially if those sources are books so we can read them for ourselves.

His marketing claims these techniques are scientific, but I’ve gone through the course twice and cannot find the references. I do not believe it’s for lack of trying. The course guide itself shows you exactly where you would expect to find such information. But it’s not there.

On the matter of marketing, it can be difficult to tell which of Kwik’s courses are which, but that’s normal. Business development is a process and I have this issue too. Entrepreneurs experiment and make changes over time.

So to be clear, the specific course I’m reviewing on this page is from Kwik Learning Online. I have Kwik Reading as part of a bundle that also includes his programs on memory and math.

I’m not 100% sure, but it seems like the reading program is the same you get from MindValley. There are other various other programs available that I’ve seen, such as challenges that break your progress down over a few weeks. But as a general matter, consumers should be aware that mass market products are often rearranged, or simply given new titles and sold again as if they are unique. Lorayne did this often during his time and it remains a common practice amongst some marketers.

Is MindValley Super Reading Worth It?

As I mentioned before, I am an advocate of getting all the education you can. I did not write this article to “police” anyone’s choices around Kwik’s content, even if I did raise questions about it.

Frankly, I’m glad he’s out there promoting reading.

On the flip side, I’m a bit concerned that the programs appeal to quick fixes and pipe dreams in a world where people want expediency.

Indeed, it’s a world where words like “expediency” often seem too complex. Writers are often encouraged to simplify their language, use shorter sentences and avoid difficult words.

That’s said because another performance expert, James Clear, makes a point I’ve never forgotten:

If you want to experience unique ideas and be an original person who can contribute in powerful ways, read books that are at least 100 years old.

But there’s a catch:

Language changes fast and such books are bound to be more difficult to read. I know because I read old books often.

I simply cannot connect any of the exercises Kwik teaches to my ability to deal with hard and sometimes downright impenetrable reading. Not from Kwik or any of the other programs these techniques have been featured in since at least Evelyn Wood’s strange speed reading books and courses first introduced them. On thoroughly pseudoscientific terms that remain pseudoscientific. (But here are a few speed reading books that are half decent.)

In sum, carpe diem and caveat emptor. If you find anything helpful in Kwik’s program, awesome. I’d love to hear about it. I might be able to suggest something else that complements it as you continue to learn how to learn.

If you’d like to join my Read with Momentum live cohort the next time it goes live, grab my FREE Memory Improvement Kit so that you’re on my notification list:

Free Memory Improvement Course

My training will help you remember faster, no matter how hard or easy your reading material happens to be. That no matter how fast you can read, you’ll always retain more.

Because the reality is that if you want to truly read faster, you needs to start with three simple things:

And on this final point, I’m delighted that Jim Kwik not only agrees that teaching is of the ultimate importance. He also makes sure it’s in his very first lesson.

Bravo!

6 Responses

  1. Anthony, loved your review. Hope all is well with you. I’m a retired teacher who has bought your books on languages and corresponded with you previously. Keep up the great articles.
    Paul Bay
    Mpls, MN USA

    1. Thanks, Paul. It’s great to hear from you again and I appreciate you reading my books and your support very much.

      Anything you’d to see covered on this blog going forward?

  2. Hello Anthony,
    I completely agree with your assessment. My mom purchased Kevin Trudeau’s Mega Memory for me over 20 years ago. Mega Memory gave me techniques that really did work. I bought Jim Kwick’s Recall course recently and it’s almost identical to Mega Memory. Most of the PEG list items are even the same. Once I realized this, I started searching to find out who came up with this method and found your article.
    I’m certainly interested in your Magnetic Memory course, however, which of your works would you recommend for Reading improvement?
    Thanks,
    Shawn

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Shawn.

      Many peg lists share similarities, especially if they are Major System-based. This is because there are in many cases only so many word possibilities for the combinations, at least in English.

      In the Magnetic Memory Method, I found a way to substantially expand every combination and elaborate each one so that they maximize more of what we now know both about the ancestral approaches to these systems and findings from contemporary science and the memory competition records and experiences shared by competitors.

      Many books and programs don’t include this material and the only thing I can deduce from that is simply that they “dumb it down” out of fear that consumers will find using the more robust principles too “hard.”

      I have not found this to be true at all and happily teach the more robust approaches.

      To your question about improving reading, I have a program called Read with Momentum. It is based on everything I know about reading from my own university career, career as a researcher-writer and the best findings I have from having studied both the speed reading world and scientific studies on what actually works to improve reading comprehension.

      Some things can actually improve your speed when it comes to pattern recognition, but speed is not a premium I place on reading skills. Momentum is what we focus on developing, which is the term I use to indicate a combination of consistency and thoroughness over time on substantial topics.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions about Read with Momentum. You can also use the search function or the categories on this site to find many articles I’ve written about reading for more details.

      Read on! 🙂

  3. Hi Anthony,

    I came across your blog by accident, and I really like the content, you pointed out a lot of stuff and don’t bash other product, you tell both the good and bad, it is rare to see nowadays this kind of honest stuff.

    And the most favorite part of this “The more you know, the more you can know”. I haven’t purchase any of your products, but you are the type of person I would definitely support, and purchase based on your efforts to share stuff. (Need to save up though for it)

    1. Thanks, Jeffrey. I appreciate your support, both in leaving this comment and to come. I look forward to having you as part of our always growing and shifting community of mnemonic fanatics! 🙂

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