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					Typing Speed: How Fast is Average

4,000 typing scores statistically analyzed and interpreted

By Teresia R. Ostrach, President, Five Star Staffing, Inc., Orlando, FL
After 27 years in the Staffing             In 1976 I had the good fortune to meet Dr.
Industry, I've encountered just about      Alan Lloyd, at that time the world's
every misconception regarding the          foremost authority on typing. Virtually
performance of office workers. The         anybody who learned to type in the 1950's
most frustrating of these is the belief    and 1960's learned from one of his books. I
in what constitutes "average" typing       asked him, "How fast is average typing
scores. I've seen people lose out on       anyway?" His answer was less than
jobs or promotions because the             definitive but pointed me in the right
companies they applied to had              direction. He said, "Less than half the
unrealistic standards for typing           population of the world has the manual
speeds. For example, "You can't be a       dexterity to wiggle their fingers at the
legal secretary unless you type 75         speed of 50 words per minute or better."
WPM," or "You can't get promoted to        He went on to explain that even more
the next level job because you don't       important was research showing that,
type 65 WPM." Worse was the fact           given the variety of tasks a secretary has to
that there was no flexibility in these     perform on a given day, no matter what her
standards. If a person applying for a      typing speed was, the average secretary
job with a typing speed requirement        about 500 typed words per day, or slightly
of 65 WPM scored 63 WPM, they              more than one word per minute! Only if
usually didn't get the job. It was as if   put into a typing pool where one never had
typing speed was the most important        to answer phones, file, or make
predictor of brains and ability.           appointments for the boss could a worker's
Complaints such as, "We can't hire         speed impact production. And that was in
her because she only types 49 words        1976 when word processors were rare. Yet,
per minute. We'd like someone at           in this day of computer-generated
least average, you know, around 65         documents the understanding of word
WPM," were common. Worse, they'd           processing software is probably more
have a tone in their voices that was       important than typing speed. The abilities
judgmental, as if the person, having       to edit and format, perform search-and-
"failed" to meet their typing              replace functions, and create merged
standards, was defective in some way       documents allowing hundreds of pages to
no matter how glowing were their           be generated with a few keystrokes make
other personal capabilities,               secretaries more productive than a high
intelligence, education, and               typing score alone. As Dr. Merton
experience was. For years I tried to       Hollister, J.D., Professor of Mathematics at
explain that 65 WPM is a lot faster        Valencia Community College, Orlando,
than average, but I had no proof.          FL told me, "With boilerplate documents
After all, everybody knows what an         in the modern law firm, even I can type
average typist is, right? Somebody         4,600 words per minute. All I have to do is
who types between 50 and 60 WPM?           bring up the document, change a couple of
Well, isn't it? Well, NO, it's not!        words and print it out."

                        continued                        continued
How this study came about:                 In 1976 I had the good fortune to meet Dr.
                                           Alan Lloyd, at that time the world's
In 1997, while upgrading our               foremost authority on typing. Virtually
applicant tracking software, I realized    anybody who learned to type in the 1950's
that my company had computerized           and 1960's learned from one of his books. I
records on more than 4,000 typing          asked him, "How fast is average typing
tests taken over a four year period.       anyway?" His answer was less than
Once upon a time, before there were        definitive but pointed me in the right
computerized tracking systems, we          direction. He said, "Less than half the
kept our applicant information on          population of the world has the manual
cards in visi-files. I never considered    dexterity to wiggle their fingers at the
statistical analysis since gathering the   speed of 50 words per minute or better."
data would be time consuming,              He went on to explain that even more
expensive, and frankly, not worth the      important was research showing that,
effort. Furthermore, in the days when      given the variety of tasks a secretary has to
applicants were tested on a manual or      perform on a given day, no matter what her
electric typewriter and timed with a       typing speed was, the average secretary
windup kitchen timer, precise scoring      about 500 typed words per day, or slightly
existed only in our dreams. Before we      more than one word per minute! Only if
began using computerized tests, most       put into a typing pool where one never had
applicants were tested on a non-           to answer phones, file, or make
correcting IBM Selectric typewriters.      appointments for the boss could a worker's
We couldn't control for people who         speed impact production. And that was in
just kept typing when the timer bell       1976 when word processors were rare. Yet,
rang. Error detection was only as          in this day of computer-generated
good as the individual correcting the      documents the understanding of word
test. All any of us could really say       processing software is probably more
about typing tests in those days was,      important than typing speed. The abilities
"This person types approximately at        to edit and format, perform search-and-
X speed." So how could anyone give         replace functions, and create merged
an accurate reading of what "average'      documents allowing hundreds of pages to
was? Most applicants protested that        be generated with a few keystrokes make
the unfamiliarity of whatever              secretaries more productive than a high
keyboard they were testing on was          typing score alone. As Dr. Merton
responsible for their "disappointing"      Hollister, J.D., Professor of Mathematics at
scores. Worse, no matter how high          Valencia Community College, Orlando,
the score, they always felt that it was    FL told me, "With boilerplate documents
"low." It didn't matter whether the        in the modern law firm, even I can type
applicant scored 30 words per-             4,600 words per minute. All I have to do is
minute-,or 100; they always were           bring up the document, change a couple of
surprised at their "poor" performance.     words and print it out."
In view of what was at stake, i.e., jobs
being denied on the basis of typing                       continued
scores, who could blame them?

                        continued




As desktop computers became                Some background on the tests and
common in offices the complaints           procedure.
changed to, "Well, I work on a
computer all day, and that's why I         Between April 1993 and April 1997, of the
didn't score well on your typewriter."     4,000+ clerical candidates who applied at
We began to allow each applicant to        Five Star Temporaries for either temporary
take the test on both the electric         or permanent jobs in the Greater Orlando,
typewriter and on the computer. We         FL area, 3,475 claimed to know how to
noticed three things:                      type and took the computerized five
1) There was little difference between     minute timed typing test. The backspace
the two scores.                            on this test was deactivated to prevent
2) Those on a computer who                 error correction during the test. The results
corrected as they typed got lower          printed out automatically giving words per
scores, but were not error-free.           minute and total errors. Each applicant was
3) They believed the results more          required to take the test twice and turn in
when allowed to use the computers.         both sets of results. This was to help lessen
                                           their frustration and their tendency to
When computerized standardized             claim, 'Well I usually do better than that."
tests came onto the market, it became      We told them, 'We want your best score."
possible to have precise and               And their "best" score was entered into the
consistent evaluations. Applicants         database while the applicant watched. As
had to stop typing when the time was       with the typewriter vs. the computer, there
up simply because the computer             was seldom a difference in the first and
program shut off. Speed and error          second test results. Occasionally someone
reports were spit out by the program     would beg to take the test a third, fourth, or
making comparisons between one set       fifth time to prove that they could do
of scores and another much more          better, but it never mattered. Without
reliable. There I was, downloading       retraining or instructional intervention,
the data from our older applicant        repeated attempts at the test did not
tracking system to a newer version,      produce noticeably better results .
and the realization burned over my       However, if an applicant, over time made
head like one of those cartoon light     the effort to train and practice to improve
bulbs. Over a four year period we had    their speed, they were free to retest and to
used the same test in our office under   have the new scores replace the old ones in
the same conditions day after day,       their record. When you read the results and
and recorded those results into our      note the actual averages of typing speeds,
database. I had usable raw data to       keep in mind that this is their best! If
analyze!                                 you're surprised at how "low" the scores
                                         are, remember, we only kept their best
                                         scores. This might indicate that "average"
                       continued         typing speed could even be lower than
                                         what was revealed in our study. When you
                                         see that the "mode" - the great majority of
                                         the scores fall around 30 WPM, remember,
                                         we recorded their best effort, not their
                                         average effort.

                                                        continued
CHART
Figure 2 breaks the data down by
deciles. Note that only half the scores
were 38 WPM or higher.
characteristics of the top decile, it
breaks down as follows:




                                          ERRORS
                                          Computers and spell checkers, have made
                                          errors not as critical as they used to be in
                                          the days when copies were made with
                                          carbon paper and each mistyped character
TABULATION OF SCORES                      had to be individually erased on four or
For the compilation of data, all the      five pages. Nonetheless, the fewer errors a
scores were downloaded from the           person makes, the fewer have to be
database at one time into a Lotus         corrected by any means, so errors are still a
spreadsheet. Statistical analysis was     factor. We did not subtract errors from the
done using the Lotus program. Scores      speed scores. Errors were not subtracted
were sorted with the lowest-score/        from the speed scores but were linked to
highest-error first proceeding to         them. This means that if someone scored
highest-score/lowest-error last. For      51 WPM with 5 errors, it was recorded just
example, a score of 53 words per          that way, not 51 - 5 = 46. Theories about
minute with 15 errors would be lower      how many words to subtract per error are
on the list than a score of 53 words      not standardized, and our experience has
per minute with 2 errors.                 shown that the net typing score (total
                                          minus errors) is a less reliable predictor of
THE RESULTS                               typing performance than the ratio of errors
Figure I shows the distribution of all    to the total score.
typing speed scores. Since our Mean
was 40 and our Median 38, our             When analyzing statistics it's safer to work
statistically "average" typist is         with raw scores. The errors were analyzed
between 38 and 40 WPM. Someone            both separately and in conjunction with
who typed 56 is in the top 20% of all     typing speeds. The range of all errors was
typists in the sample. A score of 65 is   from zero through 71 during the five
in the top 10% of the sample.             minute timed writing. Since typists in the
Differences in scores of 2 points or      top percentiles typed many more words
less should not be assumed to indicate    during the test period, we had to consider
significantly different performance.      errors as a percent of total words in
The candidate mentioned in the            addition to total number of errors.
beginning of this article who typed 49    Consider that a 25-WPM typist completes
WPM would be in the top 30% of this       125 words in five minutes while a 75-
sample. The 65-WPM typist                 WPM typist completes 375 words. If they
CONCLUSIONS
I hope you will use the results of this study to begin changing beliefs out there in the
business world and to help both employers and candidates understand that what they
consider 'average typing" is actually far better than average. Perhaps together we can
make it possible for more good candidates to get jobs this way based more on their
intelligence, experience, and their understanding of modern computer software, and less
on typing a specific number of words per minute.

				
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