StepsWeb Visual Recognition Test
StepsWeb Visual Recognition Test


The Visual Recognition Test measures how many milliseconds it takes a reader to visually recognise a known word.  To understand the significance of this, we recommend reading through this information on the stages learners go through when learning to read.

The Three Stages of Reading Development

In 1985, the psychologist Uta Frith proposed the Three Stages of Learning to Read model shown here. There has been considerable research into this area over the last few years and this has given us far more detail into this process.  However, the original three-phase model is still widely regarded by experts as a useful outline of what the brain experiences (Dehaene, 2009).

Visual recognition - tiny number of words

Ability to decode regular words

Visual recognition of words without conscious decoding

brain activation-v2-01

Brain Activation

Research has identified that some struggling learners, particularly those with dyslexia, fail to transition from conscious decoding to using the Visual Word Form Area.  Good phonics-based instruction may well produce a good decoder, but the student may still fail to become a genuinely fluent reader.  This has massive implications for literacy in general.  

The ‘cognitive overload’ of reading by conscious decoding means that readers:

  • Cannot effectively follow the sense of what they are reading.

  • Take considerably more time to read a passage.

  • Find that reading is always a chore – never a pleasure!  These readers tend to never access books for enjoyment, which further restricts their reading development and language abilities.
brain activation-v3-01

With learners in this category, the transition between stages is not an automatic one.  It is important to:

  • Identify learners in this category as soon as possible. 

  • Provide additional help to develop the decoding skills and knowledge.

  • And, most importantly - provide specific activities to transfer words into the Visual Word Form Area.

Visual Recognition Test

StepsWeb includes a test which measures how many milliseconds it takes to visually recognise a known word.  This test was developed in conjunction with Auckland University.

Supporting research in this field shows that instant visual recognition of words happens in a fraction of a second, whereas conscious decoding is a slower, labour-intensive process.  Some studies have indicated that being able to recognise a word in around 150ms or faster is a clear indicator that the reader is using the Visual Word Form Area of the brain and there is much on-going research in this field at present.


Visual Recognition Test - progress


The test enables a teacher to track a learner’s progress and identify when they transition to using the Visual Word Form Area of the brain for instant visual recognition.  As a guide, a fluent reader should be able to recognise words at 50-150 ms.

The test development has identified what visual recognition speeds are normal at different ages.  Obviously a young learner has to go through the three phases of reading and their speed will normally develop as part of this process.

The research done also confirms that visual recognition speed can be used as a predictor of students who will have difficulty reading.




word flash tablet-min

StepsWeb does it for you

The test can be set by a teacher at any point.  However, StepsWeb automatically analyses visual recognition speed as a student works on the programme and their current visual recognition speed is shown in the student profile.  This feature also adjusts the speed of the Word Flash activity, which is designed to develop visual recognition speed.  This means that it is not even necessary to set the formal test.

Start free trial

Find out more about StepsWeb

StepsWeb delivers a structured, research-based approach to teaching literacy.  Explore the methodology behind the leading online literacy programme.


How it works

The specialist approach which can be used by non-specialists.

StepsWeb stands out because it works on many levels. Research shows the need for a structured literacy approach – particularly with struggling learners.

Learn More →

step 5 - 5 big ideas

The 5 Big Ideas

StepsWeb provides a structured, cumulative approach to literacy, which encompasses and develops the five key elements often referred to as the Five Big Ideas in Beginning Reading (USA National Reading Panel, 2000).

Learn More →


Remedial Learners

StepsWeb supports struggling learners by providing a research-based, structured approach to literacy. Ideally, this should be an approach which enables every learner to progress at his or her own speed and level...

Learn More →

We've got you covered

Want more helpful resources and information like this?  Subscribe to our newsletter below for monthly updates and the occasional freebie.

You can also follow our:

Facebook page

Instagram page