All About that Base(Line): Strategies on Getting your Student's Baseline Typing Speed

NOTE: Please see these related articles on touch typing skills and resources:

Starting from Scratch: Where Do I Start When Teaching My Visually Impaired Student to Type?

Strategies for Teaching Touch Typing to Students with Visual Impairments

Five Resources to Teach Keyboarding Skills

Typio Online: A Web Based Self Voicing Typing Program

TypeAbility: More than Just an Accessible Typing Tutor

I think we can all agree that in order to move forward, we need to know exactly where we are.  Many students need typing goals and instruction either because they never got it in school before or because they were always “hunters and peckers” and this is no longer either possible or efficient.

So how do you find out exactly where to start?  How do you get a speed and accuracy baseline? Here are a few ideas that might help you get started.  This is by no means a complete list, so if you have ideas that you’d like to share, please place them in the comments section.  We’d love to know what you are using to get this information!

Method One: Use an Online or Downloadable Program to do an Assessment

This method is probably what comes to mind when getting a student’s typing speed and accuracy average.  Granted, this is a tried and true method (and an updated method from when I was learning). It is also the most clinical.  Please see the article Five Resources to Teach Keyboarding Skillsreferenced above for ideas.

If typing instruction is fairly new to the student, try a couple of different lessons to see which one is the least frustrating.  Always make note of which lesson of which program you used to gather the data you are presenting. Be sure to note if there was emphasis placed on a student learning specific keys or if there was one key or combination that was more difficult for the student.  


This method is likely to give you the numbers you want presented in the way you want them.  There will be little to no math needed and it’s pretty quick and easy. You can also pick up instruction using the same program if you’d like.


Well, the big one is’s BORING!  But that isn’t the only con, nor is it the one with the most impact on your student.  While your typing program is doing the work (along with your student), it’s more than likely that you, being the wonderful multitasker that you are, are busy getting the next assignment ready or even grading the previous one.  This means you probably are not looking at your student’s hands, finger placement, how often they are looking at the keys, etc. In other words, you are not fully engaged with your student. And yeah, it’s totally tempting to let the program do the talking and the kiddo’s fingers do the walking, but there is much more to typing than speed and accuracy (see the Strategies for Teaching Touch Typing and Starting from Scratcharticles referenced above).  

Method Two: Read a Passage to Your Student

This is as simple as it sounds.  Choose a passage at an appropriate grade level for your student.  It can be from a textbook or recreational reading passage. If you want to be super creative, choose a magazine from the school library like Sports Illustrated for Kids or something on a topic the student likes. 

Start out with a couple “trials” where you set a timer for three minutes.  This way, you are able to get a good reading pace for the student to copy from.  It will also get the student more comfortable with the situation and the sound of the timer won’t be as big of a deal to him/her.  If sounds bother the student, use your cell phone on silent or a low volume. 

When you are ready for the “real thing”, try to do three trials for three minutes each.  This can be in the same day or over a few days. If your student is easily frustrated, you might want to do this over more than one day.  

For each timing:

  1. Set a timer for three minutes.
  2. Read and watch the student as he/she types to ensure that you are keeping a good speed for him or her.  Adjust your dictation speed as needed.
  3. At the end of the three minutes, add up the words the student has typed and divide by three.  This will give you his words per minute score.
  4. Count the total words and then count how many typos.  You can then figure out the student’s approximate accuracy.  Note this won’t help when it comes to any backspacing to correct errors, but it is a close enough estimate.
    • To get a more reliable estimate on accuracy, either videotape the student typing and then review the footage to look for typing errors that he/she may have corrected or ask a colleague to sit in with you and perform this task.  


This method will also most likely give you the numbers you want, but it is a bit more of a time investment.  Since you are more directly engaged with your student, you are more likely to notice his/her hand positioning and figure placement as well as posture.  As a bonus, your student will probably be more interested in the content if you choose it, so it’s another good way of keeping your student engaged. 


Again, you may find that you are unable to pay attention to the student’s hand positioning and posture because you are reading the content that he/she is typing.  As mentioned previously, this drawback can be mitigated by filming the student as he/she types so you can go back and take notes as well as review the errors made. Given the need to choose material, review footage of the student if desired, and perform the math that will give you your desired information this method of getting the student baseline can be quite a time investment.  One thing that might help is enlisting the aid of a fellow teacher or assistant to count errors as the student types or do the reading and to double-check your math (after all, we all make errors right).

Method Three: Provide a recorded passage

As mentioned above, reading the passage to your student allows for you to adjust your reading speed.  If it is not possible to read a passage, you may wish to pre-record a passage on a device of your choice.  When using this method, keep a slow, steady, and rhythmic speed when reading so that your student can keep up.  You may want to be available to start/stop the passage as your student requests. If you believe your student can do so independently, she or she may wish to start/stop playback.  You will use the same methods described above to obtain the speed and accuracy for your student.


This method mitigates the drawback of not being able to watch your student as closely as you might like.  Because you are not reading or otherwise engaged elsewhere, you are more free to focus on his/her hand positioning, posture, and figure placement.  Your student may enjoy the novelty of typing from a read passage, especially if he or she is permitted to record it.


As mentioned in Method Two, the need to choose and prepare material, review footage of the student if desired, and perform the math that will give you your desired information this method of getting the student baseline can be quite a time investment.  Also as previously mentioned, it may be beneficial to seek assistance from a fellow teacher or assistant to count errors, monitor posture, and double-check your math.

Method Four: Typing a Memorized Passage

Most students have memorized something, whether it is a favorite song or poem or even the first verse to The Star Spangled Banner.  Have the student type, from memory, a passage of his/her choice. Set a timer for three minutes and perform the calculations described in Method Two to obtain the numbers you want.  

When using this method, your student may switch to a “stream of consciousness” method if he or she forgets the words.  As long as their typing rhythm is not disturbed, it doesn’t really matter. Remember, this is just a baseline. 


This method is less of a time investment than Methods Two and Three since you do not need to gather your own materials to read to the student.  It also allows you to more easily watch the student hand/finger placement and posture as well as track errors as he/she makes them. The student also may be more engaged in this method.  Timings can be adjusted to allow for the time the student spent typing if he/she forgets parts of the passage.


Probably the most obvious drawback is that students may not be able to remember a passage and type it at the same time, so this may not be a method that’s useful for every student.  Also, the student may very well choose an “inappropriate” song or passage either deliberately or by mistake. So it’s best to know your student before you ask him/her to do a typing timing using this method.  

Method Five: The Combo Method

If you are uncertain which method to use, try a combination of the four listed above and either average the words per minute and accuracy numbers of provide two or three sets.  But don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your student. Remember, this is just a baseline so we can begin instruction and provide goals related to touch typing. 


  1. There is no one “right way” to get a speed and accuracy.  Choose a method that works for your student.  If you’d like, share your unique method in the comments section.  Everyone likes fresh ideas and perspectives.
  2. Speed and accuracy are important, but when making notes for an IEP or creating a goal, also include goals for correct posture and hand positioning.  Be sure to include baseline data.  Examples may include:
    • Baseline: Mary removes her hands from the correct typing position an average of eight times per lesson.  She responds to prompts and reminders to place her hands in the correct position.

Goal: When engaging in typing practice, Mary will remove her hands from the correct typing position no more than twice per lesson 100% of the time with only one verbal reminder.  

  • Baseline: Joe often slouches in his seat and sits with his feet in odd positions such as spread widely and ankles “bent” over.

Goal: Joe will maintain correct posture (feet on floor and erect trunk) with no more than three prompts per lesson 100% of opportunities.

  1. Be present in the moment with your student.  This goes back to the above comment.  It is super tempting to put a student in front of the typing program.  And that may be something that you can do sometimes, but try to provide positive feedback and suggestions.  Remember, it is helpful for students when you provide three times as much praise as suggestions for improvement.  Praise what they do correctly.  For example “I like how you’re keeping your feet still today” or “You beat your previous speed by two whole words per minute, that’s pretty good!”.  


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