Handwriting Assessment

Testing Handwriting Speed

[As the norms are 'now outdated and alternatives are available, this assessment should now only be used for screening purposes]

Penny Allcock carried out a pilot study to establish standardised scores for handwriting speeds. Through participation assisted by Patoss members a broader sample was gathered and analysed to help establish proper benchmarks of writing speed for different year groups. Penny has devised a simple instruction pack, student sheet and scoring information, which you will be able to use in your school setting.

UPDATE September 2001:

From 1999 many members of Patoss have contributed timings of handwriting speed to given criteria, for examination purposes. I am delighted to be able to publish the results from 2,701 students aged 11-16 years.

Exam Success depends upon:

Thorough subject knowledge and understanding.
This depends on the tuition and revision methods and revolves around study skills.

The ability to read and interpret the questions correctly in a limited time.
This second component is the complex skill of reading and includes accuracy, comprehension and rate.

Lastly there is the composition and execution of the written evidence to prove that the candidate has subject knowledge and understanding.
Slow handwriting speed is a major factor, which prevents many students achieving the success they deserve.

Slow Handwriting may be due to:

  • Delays in information processing
  • Problems with spelling
  • Motor co-ordination difficulties
  • Labour intensive style, which results from lack of tuition in handwriting skills.

Students must first be identified, efforts made to improve their speed, raise their self-esteem and provide equal opportunity for achieving success. Ideally all students should be tested annually and this would provide evidence to support special arrangements in all written exams. It would also bring them to the attention of staff.

I tested almost 900 pupils in my own school, using the test that is published in Backhouse,G. 2000 and this formed the basis of my MA dissertation in 2000. A DfES Best Practice Scholarship has allowed me to continue to add data from other schools and I have included the results:


Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Year 11

Average H.W. Speed - words per /minute






25% slower (extra-time)






40% slower (amanuensis)






The test and the results are accepted as evidence to support applications for any students with slow handwriting speeds to be given adequate time to show subject knowledge. If only schools could be persuaded to regard this also as a problem in the classroom, affecting behaviour and learning, they will see that pupils who cannot keep up with writing in class, might find ways to avoid feelings of failure, by misbehaving.

My sincere thanks to everyone who supported me in the successful outcome of this research. I hope you will find it useful.

Penny Allcock

Handwriting Speed Assessment

Penny Allcock describes below how she has carried out a pilot study to establish standardised scores for handwriting speeds. Penny has devised a simple instruction pack, student sheet and scoring information, which you will be able to use in your school setting.

See links on right panel of this page to download these documents:

  • Student Sheet
  • Instructions for Administration and Scoring plus Student Sheet
  • Projected Handwriting Speeds for Year 12 and Year 13
  • A report which was posted on the DfES website 2001.

Define "Slow" - The Quest for a Standardised Test of Handwriting Speed. There is no standardised test for speed of handwriting and yet " slow" handwriting speed is included in the list of criteria to identify candidates eligible for special examination arrangements. I have devised a test to measure speed of handwriting and produced an initial set of values, which can be used with others, to produce standardised scores. The term "slow" may be the lowest 25% in the age group.

Theory and Research Background. Educational Psychologists used to be solely responsible for assessing pupils for special arrangements in public examinations. Then in 1998 it was decided that RSA Diplomatists would also be allowed to carry out assessments and write reports. This made clear guidelines on testing essential so the "Examining Bodies could be fair to all candidates and not knowingly confer an advantage on a candidate"(Joint Forum 1999). Spelling and reading accuracy can be measured with standardised tests but rate and accuracy in writing are also crucial to success in examinations (Connor 1995). In fact Hedderly (1996) voiced the opinion that handwriting speed was the most important factor to consider when requesting special arrangements.

For cases of dyspraxia, Alston (1994) had already suggested repetitive copying to measure handwriting speed. For dyslexic pupils she was sure that language and information processing difficulties have a major influence on output. She proposed that a twenty-minute free-writing test would be the most useful and accurate measure of output. Figures derived from a small sample (68 pupils) gave averages of just below 14 words/min for pupils with a mean age of 15 years 11 months. Data collected under examination conditions for a thirty-minute test had been published earlier by Dutton (1990) who found that a writing rate of less than 12 could be regarded as abnormally slow.

The difficulties of administering a "fair" test with free-writing prevented its use for special arrangements and the preferred option was the copying task (Sawyer, Gray, Champness 1996). The measure most commonly used by psychologists was a free-writing exercise lasting 10 or 15 minutes. Ashton(1997) questioned the validity of this measure and in searching for a better system wondered whether it should it be related to what the examinations are actually assessing.

Recent work by MacArthur(1999) states that students who have problems with the skills of handwriting can have difficulties presenting a piece of work because they are distracted from higher order processes like planning and evaluation. This results in the lowering of self-esteem and a reduction in motivation, both essential ingredients of success in public examinations.

The search began. I attended a course run by Gill Backhouse in October 1998, to find out about the changes in regulations for assessing pupils for special examination arrangements. Writing speed was identified as an important issue to provide evidence in support of requests for extra time. We were advised to use 20 minutes of free writing. Up to that time I had used a copying task, but having observed the pupils laboriously noting down each letter, I was convinced that there must be something more suitable! The need to have a standardised test was discussed and the outline for my dissertation study evolved.

I volunteered to be part of a pilot study and was keen to start planning. My school is approximately 7 miles north of Portsmouth, built originally in the 1930s. It admits boys and girls from the local area, which includes a large council estate, and pupils who travel by bus from a nearby village. There are just over 1000 students between the ages of 11 and 16 years, with 120 teaching and ancillary staff. There is a resourced unit for 30 pupils who have severe SpLD within the school and they travel from a wider area in SE Hants.

The Headmaster was happy for me to approach the Head of English and both seemed to feel that the time required to administer the test would be the crucial factor. Using information from Gill Backhouse and using suggestions from other specialist teachers, I constructed the test which I hoped would give the data I required.

I made my instructions and pupil test as clear and user-friendly as possible and gave labelled packs for each class to every teacher in the English Department. The final touches were personal delivery of the packs and a bottle of wine for each teacher! All the packs were completed in the second half of the Spring Term and handed back to me in their original folders.

Fortunately I was able to find two other souls to help with counting the data, and amazingly we are still friends! It was a huge job and seemed to last forever! We needed to have regular meetings to compare procedures and to moderate each other's marking. When I modified the test for general use we again spent several hours discussing ways to reduce counting fatigue!

The data is recorded on Microsoft EXCEL and shows words/min, letters/min, numbers of words and letters in each five-minute interval, letters/word and a range of data collected in school which I have tested for correlations. The next step is to transfer the data to Microsoft ACCESS and extract numbers and percentages.

For Years 7,8 and 9, each year showed increasing speeds and output, as one might expect. The Y9 pupils have a higher letter/word ratio but the Y10 results dipped below Y9. Y11 results were as expected, showing further improvement.

One of the factors affecting the Y10 scores may have been the timing of the testing. Y10 had their exams just before half term, motivation was poor and attendance was reduced. This would have to be a particular consideration; planning the time to include as many students as possible in each lesson. I did not feel it was possible to follow up absent students when they already needed to catch up on work missed. Another consideration is that year groups are not usually evenly spread across the intellectual spectrum, hence the need to include many more students in this data.


Year Average Letters min/Average words Average words/min
7 52.6 14.0
8 54.8 14.3
9 60.8 15.6
10 56.9 14.7
11 64.9 16.1


Penelope Allcock


Alston J. (1994) Written Output and Writing Speeds. Dyslexia Review 6(2)6-12 Ashton C.(1997) The Assessment of Handwriting Speed.
Dyslexia Review 9(2) 8-11 Connor H.(1995) Handwriting performance and GCSE Concessions
Handwriting Review 1995 7-21 Dutton K.(1990) Writing under examination conditions. Establishing a baseline.
Handwriting Review 1992 Hedderly R.(1996) The Assessment of SpLD Pupils for Examination Special Arrangements.
Dyslexia Review 1996 Sawyer C. et al(1996) Measuring Speed of Handwriting for GCSE Candidates.
Educational Psychology in Practice Vol 12 No.1 April 1996 Joint Forum for GCSE and GCE Candidates with Special Assessment Needs Regulations and Guidance for 1999

Back to all sheets