What Is the Average Reading Speed?

What Is the Average Reading Speed?

What Is the Average Reading Speed?

Many resources indicate that the average reading speed of most adults is around 200 to 250 words per minute. College students, probably because they must practice reading, move that pace up a notch to around 300 words per minute. To put this into perspective we can turn to public speaking and the comparison of the rate of speaking and the rate at which people can comprehend the spoken word.

An experienced public speaker will deliver his or her message at a rate of about 160 words per minute. It is possible to speak more rapidly, but it is recommended that readers for recorded books speak at around this pace because it is comfortable for most listeners. However, some speakers – such as auctioneers – can speak at a rate of up to 400 words per minute. By comparison, we form thoughts at around 1000 – 3000 words per minute, which gives the average listener lots of time to wool-gather, plan menus, and argue with the speaker.

Now, let’s bring these statistics back and apply them to reading speed. Reading is a complex process that involves a variety of factors. These include being able to discern different sounds as they make up a word and to interpret the various combinations of letters, especially when “sounding out” new or unfamiliar words. Reading teachers will use buzz words such as “sight words” or words that readers recognize without having to sound out the letters phonetically. Students who have difficulty associating sounds with letters might have difficulty learning to read. It is for this reason that it takes a special set of teaching (and learning) skills for a hearing-impaired child to learn to read. Students who can quickly associate a sound with a letter have a boost toward excellent reading skills. But that does not mean that students who do not have those skills cannot become good readers.

Students who are visual learners also have a leg up when learning to read. On the other hand, students who have visual difficulty or other learning obstacles such as poor correspondence between hand and eye, might find the process of learning to read frustrating – especially if being taught using traditional methods. Curiously, it has been discovered that dyslexic or ADD students who do boost their reading speed come to enjoy the reading process far more than they did when they were struggling. The increased reading speed allows them to process information faster and that increases their ability to maintain interest and focus on the material.

In fact, this ability to focus on the material, to take it in and to retain it is the whole point of increasing reading speed, no matter who the reader might be. It has been argued by some that the process of pushing for greater reading speed lowers comprehension. This is both true and untrue, and the threshold for reading with good comprehension is different for different people, and changes with the amount of reading practice.

For example, your average Kindergarten graduate should be able to read at around ten words per minute. The words might need to be within the child’s “sight word” vocabulary, and definitely should be within his or her spoken vocabulary. Students from homes where books are read, including being read aloud to the student, are likely to have a larger speaking vocabulary. They also have arrived at school knowing that information and stories are contained in books and are likely to be excited about learning to read the words for themselves. Students who are sensitive to the nuances of letter sounds, and who can clap for each of the sounds in a three-letter word, such as “bag” are likely to have an easier time learning to read than students who have difficulty discerning the sounds as being associated with each letter.

By the middle of the year in first grade, a student should read around 23 words per minute. In second grade this should have increased to 72 wpm, by grade three to 92 wpm, grade four 112 wpm, and 140 by grade five. Speed increases continue steadily through middle school, and by grade 8, they should be reading around 151 words per minute. For most students, speed increases will continue more slowly through high school as youngsters pursue other interests, but they should continue to progress steadily toward the average adult reading rate of 200-250, or better.

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.

 Motivation for developing a greater reading speed can also be a factor. It can be for pleasure – to be able to read the best-selling books before they get turned into movies, or it can be for profit – because being able to absorb large amounts of material quickly is helpful in school and on the job. We live in an age of communication and information. We stand at the edge of an ocean of knowledge, with a small cup – our ability to read.

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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Paul Nowak

Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading and memory courses. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals worldwide at institutions that include: NASA, Google, HSBC and many Fortune 500 companies.

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  • Shamim

    Had a great time reading this article and the comments!
    English is my second language. As a 33 y.o. adult, I read my native language with an average of 250 wpm. But I manage to read English texts around 110 wpm which is very low and I would like to bump up to 250. Although I know it can be improved by practicing, the main problem is when facing some new words that are not in my vocabulary! That greatly reduces the flow of my readings!

  • 15 year old boy

    annybody knows how rare is for an 15 year old boy to read at 1191 wpm?

    • Alek Sander

      It is more rare than my steak :P

    • Alex

      Haha lol

  • Les

    Reading is different for different people. My daughter is the fastest reader I know. She was slow learning to read, falliing behind her peers through second grade. But something clicked for her in third grade, and when she was eleven I timed her reading at over 2000 words per minute. When she was a teenager she “borrowed” new romance novels from her mother (typically 400 pages), took them up to her room, and returned them in the morning completely read.
    But as a junior in college, she was diagnosed as dyslexic when she could not learn a foreign language. But she went on to graduate in English with honors, and became a librarian.
    It appears that she learns each word as a single glyph, and because she has been an avid reader since grade school she has a very large vocabulary.

  • Alicia

    I can read 800 wpm, but without comprehension. Me and my friend finished the harry potter books in 3 months at 3rd grade. After I got a phone, I have stopped reading, but i am reading again. I am 12 years old. I can read at most 3-4 books a day.

  • chris

    I am 13 years old and read 1920 WPM with 90% comprehension. My trick is that I read text sentence by sentence, instead of word by word or letter by letter. I have on numerous speed reading competitions, and scored 780 on the verbal portion of the SAT when I was 11. However, I cannot do math for the life of me. I think “Savant Syndrome” is what I have going on.

    • Neha G

      Thats an excellent tip. I have noted it down, hope this helps me pace up

  • Lucille Myers

    I also read all Twilight books in a week, and all of the Harry Potter books in a month, but that was a few years ago.

  • Lila

    I read at 400 wpm at 12 years old so I was quite surprised when I read this.

    • John

      Honestly, for anyone who stumbles across this article, reading speed is in no way a measure of your intelligence. The important thing is not that you read quickly, it is simply that you read. There is absolutely no better way to improve yourself than through reading. Kids especially, don’t get hung up on the speed. Fast or slow hardly matters, just be a reader.

  • Connor

    I read 548 wpm while reading Harry Potter and i’m in 6th grade. But, Harry Potter probably has a easier repertoire of words to comprehend so my wpm would be lower on higher level books such as college textbooks

  • Paul

    My son read super-fast between 5 and 9 years old. He read Harry Potter one book in a day and finished 7 books in a week during a school break as a first grader. That was about 400 to 500 wpm. He read 20 to 30 books every week for 4 or 5 years. After he got an iPad/iPhone, his reading time and reading speed dropped dramatically.

  • ryan

    im only 201 im slow but i try im 11 btw other 12 congrats ur so fast

  • Jemma

    The fact that practice improves your reading rate, is very clear! I read a couple of hours each day and I have slowly worked my self up to adult reading rate at age 12. I must say… I’m very proud.

    • Alek Sander

      That’s great to hear! There is no greater skill than having the ability to get through new information quickly, and remember it.

  • Reverend Darlene G. Engebretsen, MSW.

    Although I’m no math genius, I’ve always been a good reader and writer. I didn’t attend preschool or kindergarten, yet was immediately placed in the most advanced reading group in first grade. I’ve had no special training, other than spending a lot of time reading when I was growing up. This was very helpful in college. I recently found some old school records, which included test scores. They showed that by the end of my freshman year in high school, I was reading at 495 words per minute with 100% comprehension. Skills can certainly be improved or enhanced with training and practice, but I think there are some abilities that people are just born with. At age fifty – nine, my reading skills help me to write better poetry because reading builds vocabulary and sparks the imagination.

    • Alek Sander

      So eloquently put… Reading builds vocabulary and sparks the imagination. Love it!

    • ryan

      your reading rate is insanely faster if not almost double mine. im good typer though.

  • Zachary

    I am 27 years old male, I have a masters degree, and I read 200 words per minute! I don’t get how do you people read faster?

    • Alek Sander

      There are practical techniques that you can implement in your reading that will help you increase your reading speed with better focus and concentration so you can comprehend the material. Check out the Iris Speed Reading & Memory Courses.

    • Connor

      I read 548 wpm while reading Harry Potter and i’m in 6th grade. But, Harry Potter probably has a easier repertoire of words to comprehend so my wpm would be lower on higher level books such as college textbooks

  • Jonah

    Don’t get cocky I’m reading at 426 wpm at 14.

    • nhudwenhj

      309 at ten


    Waoo! Very insightful and informative to my thesis am dealing with dyslexic learners.

  • Soo

    Insightful article. Thank you for posting it. Now I have an idea of where I stand relative to average speed readers and the college level.

  • Timothy

    I just came here because I was curious about what reading level I was really at (not what the school tells me) and I was surprised to learn that I’m at a college level (358 wpm) at age 14. Not only was that very clear in the article, the article also gave me information that I didn’t expect, like how reading speed and comprehension develops throughout childhood. This article is amazing, and I hope more people discover it.

  • Chris u Bahago

    Hi, I’ll be glad to improve my reading speed, just stumbled on your innovation,commend it highly.

  • Júlia

    Really enjoyed your text! Very complete and well written, has every information I wanted and somethings that didn’t even know I wanted to know.
    I wonder if there is information when a sua language is concerned, which is my case.
    Again, great job on the articule!