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What Is the Average Reading Speed?

Enjoyable practice has a great deal of influence on reading speed and comprehension. Sometimes the difference between a reader and a non-reader is simply finding material that is appealing to the student. Make no mistake about it, reading is a skill that requires practice. It is a visual, kinetic and cognitive skill, which means that different people are likely to practice reading at varying skill levels. Reading for at least fifteen minutes a day has the potential to increase reading skills. If the reading material is enjoyable to the reader, those fifteen minutes will breeze by, instead of being a laborious chore, and might even stretch into an hour or more of pleasurable activity.

Like many things, “average” means that there are people who read much more slowly than that average figure and those who read much more quickly. Each reader will have different levels of reading, as well. A good reader, who has a cruising speed of 300 words per minute, can quickly read through fiction or magazine articles that are of interest. However, dense textbook material that is heavy with new vocabulary and facts is likely to slow any reader from his or her top reading speed. On the other end of that scale, if specific information is needed quickly, experienced readers will switch into “skimming”, a reading mode that scans down a page looking for keywords.

So, what constitutes reading speed? For a new reader, who is puzzling out words one at a time, it could be one or two words a minute, and then a burst of reading speed as he or she puts the words together in a sentence. People who are not habitual readers might struggle along below their normal speaking pace, especially if they are vocalizing the words while they read.

Readers who cruise along in the 350–600 reading speed do not necessarily read every word in each paragraph. They have learned to read in chunks, and often form pictures in their minds as they read, so a novel or even an interesting bit of non-fiction will unfold as if it were a video. A reader’s speed of mental cognition will affect reading speed, as will physical handicaps such as requiring glasses or contacts to see clearly. Reading is a physical task as well as a mental one, so the speed at which the reader’s eyes can flick across a page might also affect reading speed.

In fact, reading speed is affected by the medium which is being read. Slightly different skills are needed to read a rolling television script, a computer screen, an electronic tablet, the screen of a cell phone, a printed book or even a newspaper. The medium is held differently (or perhaps not held at all), the words display differently, and the information is formatted differently. Some speed reading programs display text one word at a time, challenging the reader to immediately recognize the word and associate it with the previous words to develop comprehension.

With all these things in mind, we can come back and say that many literate adults read at an average reading pace of around 200 to 250 words per minute. Most of us are capable of learning to read comfortably at a much faster pace, it just takes a little training to push beyond a familiar comfort zone to take advantage of that ability to think at a rate of 1000 words per minute or more. Reading at a faster pace with comprehension and recall might require daily practice. This often means pushing to a higher reading rate, just to develop speed, but then dropping back to a lower rate to acquire information or to enjoy a story.

In addition, even though vocalization or sub-vocalization can be a good learning tool, as can using a pointer or tracing words with a finger, these helpers must be left behind before higher speeds can be realized.

No matter how well you read, you will only be able to take in a portion of that ocean. But the better your reading skills, the larger your cup becomes, and the more information you can gather in a short amount of time. Information is power, and reading is the quickest, most efficient way to gather information.

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