Monthly Archives: December 2021

Is it helpful to estimate how long it will take for someone else to read something?

A collection clocks telling different times
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
How long will it take you to read this post?

It depends of course. Two minutes? Five minutes, 15 minutes, an hour? It depends on how fast you can read generally, how carefully you read it, whether you are making notes, whether you need to read it again to understand the point being made or whether there is going to be exam on the content of this post later today. If you have certain disabilities or read English as a second (or third or fourth language) it may take you longer than someone who does not have a disability or is a native user of English. If the content is entirely new to you or uses concepts you do not yet understand then it is likely to take you longer.

Surely it takes as long it takes? However, in my job as a lecturer I am asked to specify how many hours students should spend on independent study in the module descriptor. I set pre-readings where I might advise students that this chapter will take (say) about an hour to read – however many report back that they take longer; this may make them feel they are not clever enough for this course and that ‘everyone else’ has no problem getting through the reading in the time suggested. It can dent confidence as they get to grips with new, unfamiliar material.

This issue came into focus for me recently in my capacity as a learner. I am taking an internal leadership course run by my employer. The pre-reading for the session took me a lot longer than the suggested time. While I could probably have ‘read’ the material in the suggested time, I also took notes, so I could come back to it when discussing the reading in the live session – I am not the sort of person who reads something then remembers everything I read. Does this mean I am not academically able enough to do the course? Is there something ‘wrong’ with me? Alternatively, are the tutors unrealistic in their expectations?

These are probably the wrong questions. We ask our students to read certain items because we believe them to be (at least one of) important, essential, useful, interesting, helpful or thought-provoking regarding their studies. The readings my tutors designated met all these criteria. While the question of too much or little is an important one, but is it remotely helpful to state how long it should take me to read it?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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