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Test Timed Writings

Author: George Rhodes, Founder of The Keyboard Teacher.George Rhodes

Typewriting instruction is perhaps best “remembered” by former students for the stress it imposed during evaluation tests, or timed writings. A typing or keyboarding skill test is based on two factors–speed of keying and accuracy of keying. Keystroke speed provides a highly reliable score, while measurement of keystroke accuracy is highly unreliable. In fact, a keying speed score is some five times as reliable as is a keying accuracy score. A student who averaged 30 WAM with 6 total errors during a 3-minute timing might well double his error count to 12 errors on the next timing without gaining his teacher’s attention; but, should the same student key at a 60 WPM rate, twice his previous WPM rate, he would immediately be viewed as having done the impossible.

To remove the stress from keyboarding evaluation timings, instructors must eliminate its cause–an overemphasis on keying accuracy. Foremost, a realistic weight must be given to errors in determining the student’s skill score, the author believing that not more than 20% of the student’s score should relate to error counts. An error allowance should be built into the grade scale that bases the grade entirely on keystroke speed until an excessive number of errors are keyed. An additional “guard” against giving excessive weight to unreliable error scores is to allow multiple timing trials. From my own teaching activities I concluded that the student should be allowed three trials, a 6 error allowance per trial, with the best of the three trials graded and recorded.

A grade scale based on the best of three trials must reflect the added trials, and thus be higher than the scale for a single trial, or two trials. A major value of multiple efforts is that it reduces student tension, a contributing cause of abnormally high error counts during evaluation timings; as a keyboarding instructor, in applying the three trial test timing, students came to positively view this activity and often reminded me of it being “test day”.

While teaching typewriting I expended large amounts of time and energy in the scoring of student timed writings. I recall weekends being frequently “invaded” by a need to score stacks of timing papers that had accumulated during the week. To eliminate this problem, upon moving from the typewriter to the software driven computer, I engaged in the development of a software instruction program titled “The Keyboard Teacher.” The centerpiece of this software was a timed writing program that included the timed writing features previously described. A textbook was not involved as the timing copy was – included in the software. In its evaluation or “Test Trials” mode the software allowed three 3-minute timings, instantly providing speed and error scores and the resulting grade after each trial. Following the third trial, the program selected the best of the three trials and entered its grade into a cumulative grade average for timed writings.

The described Test Trials program has these advantages over the traditional typewriting timings: 1) Eliminates the need for a textbook; 2) Eliminates the demanding task of scoring student timings for both speed and errors, then calculating a grade; 3) A tireless performer, the software eliminates the substantial scoring errors inherent in any human controlled activity. For all keyboarding teachers who employ software that fails to include the features of the described timed writing program, hopefully replacement software will soon become available.