Archive for November, 2011

The Optimal Reading Rate

November 21, 2011

By Nirmaldasan


“Rauding theory holds that: (a) there is an optimal rate where efficiency is a maximum, (b) the optimal rate is the same during reading and auding, and (c) at the optimal rate, reading efficiency is equal to auding efficiency,” writes  Ronald P. Carver in ‘Optimal Rate of Reading Prose’ (Reading Research Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Autumn, 1982), pp. 56-88). Rauding is typical reading, which he differentiates from skimming, scanning, studying and memorizing.

Carver disagrees with the findings of R.E. Jester and R.M.W. Travers that the optimal rates for reading and auding are 300 and 200 words per minute (wpm) respectively. He writes: “On the contrary, the present data suggest that approximately 300 wpm is the most efficient rate for typical college students when they read college-level material as well as when they read Grade 5 material. Thus, it would not seem appropriate for good readers to adjust or change their rate as material decreases in difficulty, because it would be inefficient for them to do so.”

If you skim at the rate of 1000 wpm, as many skilled readers do, there is indeed a greater chance of misreading or misunderstanding the text. I am of the view that the optimal reading rate for both reading and auding ranges from 200 wpm to 300 wpm. This is roughly 3 to 5 words per second.

While researching the average sentence length in terms of words and syllables and letters, I had discovered an approximate equation: 1 x L (letters) = 3 x S (syllables) = 5 x W (words). Using this equation, we find that the optimal reading rate of 3 to 5 words per second may also be expressed as 5 to 8 syllables per second and 15 to 25 letters per second.

Tailpiece: As I was explaining my position on the optimal reading rate to my son Andrew Veda, he drew my attention to a passage in Bernard Shaw’s play “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days”. One of the charactersNewton says: “You can do, quite deliberately and intentionally, seven distinct actions in a second. How do you count seconds? Hackertybackertyone, hackertybackertytwo, hackertybackertythree and so on. You pronounce seven syllables in every second.”