The Speed of Seeing and Reading

Ever wonder how long it really takes to see something? Well, the speed of vision is quite fast. For most daily tasks, you can see things in less than a quarter of a second. Keep in mind, however, that certain tasks take more time to see the details than do others, depending on the size and amount of details surrounding what you are looking at. It takes less time to see large things compared to small things, and it takes less time to see a single item compared to multiple items crowded together. Also, it takes less time to see things you are familiar with compared to things that are unfamiliar. With practice on the same task, you can see things as quickly as one tenth of a second.

Believe it or not, the speed of reading is just as fast as seeing other things. For an experienced reader, it takes a quarter of a second to see and recognize a word before his or her eye jumps to the next word. The average reading speed for an adult is 250 words per minute. Since the average typed page is 250 words, this translates into reading about a page a minute. Of course, reading speed will vary depending on the same factors described above. Large print is easier and faster to read than small print. Longer words take more time to read than shorter words. Familiar words are read faster than words you have never seen before. With practice, an average reader can accelerate his or her reading to over 500 words per minute.

Span of Recognition

Reading speeds will also vary depending on age and eye capabilities. In younger readers, the reading rates are much slower, mostly because the child is not familiar with the words. In beginning readers, words need to be read in smaller segments and by sounding out the letters or syllables. After words are familiar, they read faster because they don’t need to sound out the words by segments. They can read the whole word, which takes less time. The size of the segment by which a person reads is called the span of recognition. The larger the span of recognition, the fewer stops the reader makes when reading. This can be compared to walking— baby steps don’t let you travel as fast as do large steps. As readers progress, their steps, or span of recognition, get larger and faster. In first grade, the average reading rate is 80 words per minute. By fourth grade, it’s 158. By eighth grade, it’s 204.

Some readers can be hindered from reading quickly even if they are familiar with the words. This occurs because their eyes don’t look at the words or word segments in the right order or with the proper span and rhythm. Reading fast is like running hurdles. If your steps are not coordinated, spaced and timed accurately, you cannot run very fast, and you trip over the hurdles. Likewise, eye-tracking disorders cause you to trip over the words, making you reread and take longer to finish. Slow readers or readers with poor fluency should be suspected of having eye problems that contribute to their reading problems. Eye coordination and span-of-recognition problems can be evaluated and corrected by eye doctors who evaluate reading disorders and offer vision and reading training.

Article by Dr. David Bloch, OD