36 stats and facts on reading speed

36 stats and facts on reading speed

There are numerous benefits of reading – from helping with your focus and memory to developing empathy and communication skills.

In order to understand how fast can people read, we summarized findings from 21 scientific papers and articles, compiling 36 reading speed statistics and facts.

Average reading speed statistics

Reading speed is the number of words a person can read correctly per unit of time. It’s usually described in words per minute (wpm).

The average reading speed varies depending on different sources but is usually in the 200-300 wpm range:

  • The average silent reading speed for an adult person is 238 wpm for non-fiction, according to a meta-analysis of 190 studies on reading speed.
  • The average reading speed for fiction is 260 wpm.
  • The average oral reading speed is 183 wpm, according to the meta-analysis of 77 studies with 5,965 participants.
  • The average reading speed for learning is 100-200 wpm.
  • The reading speed for memorizing the material is lower than 100 wpm.

Average reading speed by page

An in-depth breakdown of reading speed by age is presented in this article – https://wordsrated.com/reading-speed-by-age/

  • For the typical paperback format, the average reading speed is 1 page per minute (60 pages per hour) for the adult person.
  • The average college student can read approximately 20 pages per hour of easy fiction and non-technical material (the average textbook contains 800 words per page).
  • For technical material, the average student can read around 11 pages per hour (149 wpm).
  • The average reading rate for advanced scientific or technical is 6 pages per hour, which equates to 75 words per minute.  

How fast can people read?

There are physical and technical limitations to how fast can a person read. Based on the methods they employ, there are 3 main types of readers – motor readers, auditory readers, and visual readers:

  • Motor readers are limited to an average of 200-250 wpm. This is because they utilize subvocalization (sounding out each read word), which significantly limits a person’s ability to read faster.
  • Auditory readers can read at a rate of 400-450 wpm. They don’t need to engage their lips or tongue while reading but rather can hear and say the words silently.
  • Visual readers can read at rates over 450 wpm, and usually can read at a 700 wpm rate and higher. They don’t need to hear or say the word they’re reading.
  • Around 20% of people who try to learn speed reading will never get over the auditory reading level.
  • Some research claim that reading over 500 wpm with full comprehension is impossible due to the physical limitations of processing information by human eyes.

Some people claim to be able to read at a much higher rate with full comprehension:

  • Annie Jones is a 6-time Worlds speed reading champion, able to read 4,700 wpm with 67% comprehension. 
  • Howard Berg set the Guinness World Record in speed reading 1990, allegedly reading 25,000 words per minute (or 80 pages per minute) with 100% comprehension. However, Guinness doesn’t no longer recognize any speed-read records.
  • Maria Teresa Calderon claims to have the ability to read 80,000 wpm with 100% comprehension. This claim has never been officially confirmed.
  • Bill Gates is reported to read 150 pages per hour or ~625 wpm with 90% comprehension.

Average reading speed by age

Reading speed changes by age. Previous studies show that reading speed gradually progresses during school years, peaks around college years, and starts declining in adulthood.

Based on research by Hasbrouck, J. & Tindal, G. (2017), this is how reading speed (in words read correctly per minute WCPM) changes during elementary school:

  • 1st-grade students’ reading speed is 53 wcpm (50 percentile)
  • 3rd-grade students read 107 wcpm on average
  • 5th-graders average 139 wcpm
  • 7th-graders also have 150 wcpm reading speed
  • 8th-grade students average 151 wcpm

As students enter high school, reading speed increases to adult level, and then peaks during college:

  • By the age of 18, most high school students improve their reading speed to 200-250 wpm
  • During college, the average student can read at a 250-300 wpm rate

As people get older, reading speed additionally decreases:

  • One study showed that older adults (mean age 58 years old) read 30% slower compared to younger adults (mean age 23 years old).

What impacts reading speed?

Aside from age, there are several other factors that can affect reading speed. They span from the way letters and words are positioned and designed to differences among languages and coping with certain health conditions.

The visual span of reading, defined as the number of letters in a text that the reader can recognize without moving his/her eyes, has a significant effect on reading speed:

  • A study has shown that there is a strong correlation between visual span size and reading speed (between 53.1% and 93.9% of the variance in reading speed).
  • Another study points out that the expansion of visual span by 6 bits can lead to a 41% increase in maximum reading speed.

The effect of letter spacing on reading speed is similar to the effect of age. According to D. Yu (2007):

  • Reading speed increases with increased letter spacing, reaching maximum at standard letter spacing.
  • At spacing 2x the size of standard, reading speed decreases by 25%.

Crowding, the (in)ability to recognize distinct objects (letters) in a clutter, also affects reading speed. As crowding increases with age, studies showed that it can lead to reduced reading rate:

  • Older adults (mean 58 years old) exhibit a 31% increase in crowding zone compared to younger adults (mean 23 years old).
  • At the same time, the same group exhibited a 30% reduction in reading speed.

Some studies show that reading sources can have a significant effect on reading speed:

  • Reading on paper makes reading 10%-30% faster compared to reading on screen.
  • Several studies also show that reading comprehension is higher on printed media compared to digital.

Language impacts reading speed. One of the studies analyzed reading speed in 12 different languages, and the rate varied from 181 wpm for Arabic to 285 wpm for the Italian language.

Various health conditions could affect reading speed. Among them, the most common are dyslexia, alexia, hyperlexia,  vision-related problems, trauma. Reading speed can also be a problem for people who have problems with word decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension.

FAQ

How do you measure reading speed?

Measuring reading speed can be accomplished by several methods. The most simple method would be reading a random page (medium-level reading) material for 1 minute and counting how many words have been read.

Another method would be estimating the number of words on a page (by counting the number of words in the first 2 lines and finding the average), then counting the number of lines on a page and multiplying it with the average number of words per line.

This would give an estimate of the number of words on a page. After that, read the whole page of the material, measuring the time needed for completion. Finally, divide the number of words on a page by the number of seconds it took to read them and multiply it by 60. This will give you your wpm rate.

How does reading speed impacts comprehension?

Studies have shown that, for the average human, reading at rates over 500 wpm isn’t possible for 100% comprehension. One of the possible reasons for this is the fact that the very things that slow down our reading are the things that make us understand what we’re reading.

This includes subvocalization and regression, a process where we glance back at the words we’ve previously read. By eliminating these 2, we’re able to read at rates over 400 wpm, but as a consequence, we sacrifice comprehension.

For reference, the usual reading speed for memorizing is under 100 wpm, while the average rate for learning is between 100 and 200 wpm. 

Leave a Comment