This article provides tools to help estimate student reading time.
Reading is a central learning activity in most courses, often comprising a major portion of the time that students spend studying each week. With so much time devoted to reading, instructors need to clearly communicate their expectations regarding the amount of time it will take to complete the reading activities, as well as the level of comprehension students should achieve as they read. By providing an accurate estimate of reading time, instructors can help students better understand the amount of mental effort it will take for them to complete their assigned work. In turn, this will help students plan their weekly study schedules.
This job aid may be used to estimate the average amount of time that students will spend to complete a reading assignment. At the end of this job aid, you will fill out an estimate that looks like the worked example below.
Worked Example for a Total Estimated Reading Time
Number of pages to read: 20
Average lines per page: 50
Average words per line: 15
Average words per page: 750
Difficulty level of the text: Low
Estimated average reading speed: 300 words per minute (wpm)
Average reading time per page: 2 minutes 30 seconds
Estimated average reading time: 50 minutes
Number of pages (20) x Average reading time per page (2 minutes 30 seconds) = Estimated average reading time (50 minutes)
Additional reading activity time: 25 minutes
Total estimated reading time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Steps to Determine the Total Estimated Reading Time
The following steps will help you determine the total estimated reading time.
Step 01: Count the number of pages in the reading that consist primarily of text. You may want to exclude pages that consist solely of graphics, charts, or other non-text elements.
Step 02: Find a page that may be used as a representative sample of the other pages. Count the number of lines on the page. You may repeat this step with additional pages if you would like to get a more accurate count of the average number of lines per page.
Step 03: Select 5 lines of text that may be used as a representative sample of the rest of the text. (You don’t want to choose lines that are in a larger or smaller font.) Count the total number of words in all five lines. Then divide that total by 5 to find the average number of words per line.
Step 04: Find the average number of words per page. To do this, multiply the average number of words per line by the average number of lines per page.
Words per line x Lines per page = Words per page
Step 05: Estimate the difficulty level of the text (e.g., low, medium, high). The higher the difficulty level, the more time students will need to spend reading the text. Estimating the difficulty level will help you complete the next step, in which you determine the average reading speed of your students.
Step 06: Estimate the average reading speed in words per minute (wpm). You may want to test this by having students in one of your current courses read different parts of your text for 1 minute and then count the number of words read. Add the total number of words read by all of the students (have each student report the number of words read and then add them up). Then divide the total number of words read by the total number of students to get the average number of words read per minute.
Total words read per minute / Total number of students = Average number of words read per minute
If this is not possible, you may make an educated guess by using the following rules of thumb, which are based on research on the average adult reading speed (Hattie and Yates, 2014).
500 words per minute -- People that read this fast are usually skimming the content looking for key words or concepts. Comprehension is reduced at such high speeds.
300 words per minute -- The average mature reader reads at this speed as long as the content is familiar and not difficult to comprehend.
200 words per minute -- The content is information-rich, with some parts that may be a challenge to comprehend.
150-200 -- This is the rate at which most people process spoken language--either speaking or listening.
100 words per minute -- This would be the reading speed for very challenging material. At speeds below 100 words per minute, comprehension becomes more difficult. This can occur if there are many new concepts or vocabulary words per paragraph or page, and they have to spend time rereading the text to try to comprehend it.
Below 60 words per minute -- The content is so challenging to read that comprehension is nearly impossible. Students spend so much time decoding individual words and phrases that they are unable to comprehend the meaning of the text.
Step 07: Estimate the average reading time per page. You can determine this by having students in one of your current courses read 1 page of the text and report on the average amount of time it takes. (You may want to have students read different pages.) Add up the total time of all of the students (have each student report the time it takes to read a page and then add it all up). Then divide the total time by the total number of students to get the average time per page.
Total time / Total number of students = Average time per page
If this is not possible, you can simply divide the average number of words per page (Step 04) by the average number of words per minute (Step 06).
Average words per page / Estimated reading speed (words per minute) = Average reading time per page.
Example: 600 Average words per page / Estimated reading speed of 200 words per minute = 3 minutes average reading time per page
600 words per page / 200 words per minute = 3 minutes per page
Step 08: Multiply the average reading time per page by the number of pages in the reading assignment.
Average reading time per page x Number of pages to read = Estimated average reading time
Example: 3 minutes average reading time per page x 20 number of pages to read = Estimated average reading time of 60 minutes
3 minutes x 20 pages = 60 minutes reading time
Step 09: Faculty often don’t want students to just read the text. They also want them to do something as they read, like take notes, fill out a worksheet, or write a list of questions in preparation for a small-group discussion. Consequently, it is important to determine how much additional time students will need to invest to ensure successful completion of the entire reading activity. You may need to increase or reduce the amount of time dedicated to the activity, depending on how difficult you think it will be for students to comprehend the material. For example, if you know that one chapter in the textbook will have a lot of new information for the students, you may wish to add more time to your estimate to allow students to re-read certain parts of the text. Or if you have a worksheet that you expect students to fill out as they read, you may wish to add more time to allow them to write their answers. Basically, the strategy is to increase the amount of additional time devoted to the activity until you are very confident that the students will be able to complete the reading assignment in that amount of time.
Step 10: Combine the average reading time estimate in Step 08 with any additional time in Step 09. This will be the total estimated reading time.
Average reading time estimate (60 minutes) + Additional time (30 minutes) = Total estimated reading time (90 minutes)
After you have completed these steps, you will want to add the estimated time to the learning activity directions and/or the module overview. You should also consider mentioning in the syllabus how much time per week that students can expect to spend reading. The goal is to provide students with this key information so that they will organize their study schedules and put in the necessary mental effort to complete their reading assignments.
Your Total Estimated Reading Time
Now follow the 10 steps listed above to determine the total estimated reading time for your own reading assignment.
Number of pages to read:
Average lines per page:
Average words per line:
Average words per page:
Difficulty level of the text: Low / Medium / High
Estimated average reading speed: ?? words per minute (wpm)
Average reading time per page:
Estimated average reading time:
Number of pages (?) x Average reading time per page (? minutes ?? seconds) = Estimated average reading time (?? minutes)