Boost your typing skills

Your typing speed (and accuracy) makes a big difference to your productivity. When was the last time you considered and fine-tuned your typing abilities? There are some great tools online for self-assessment and training, and we check them out in this post.

One of the biggest myths is that you can’t improve your typing ability in adulthood. Check out The Theory section below for more info on the neuroscience – but in short the science says yes you can improve, and even start touch typing for the first time.

1. Assess your Typing Speed and Accuracy

There are plenty of online typing tests which will let you know your existing skill level. I tried typingtest.com. It offers a quick one minute test, and you get to choose from a variety of subjects for the text you have to copy.

Below is how typingtest.com displays a score. As you can see it gives you a great snapshot of your skill and how it compares to the average. I am a touch typist, and while my score below is good, my speed is actually about 70wpm but I lost marks for errors. So my accuracy could certainly do with some fine tuning.

typingscore.JPG

It doesn’t matter what level you are currently at, the main message is that once you start to measure your ability, you can track your improvement. Even if you are using the hunt and peck method” (a great term this site uses which means to use a couple of fingers to hunt out the letters), you can progress.

2. Train and develop your skills

Once you know your skill level, you can use the training materials to improve. It might just be honing your speed and/or accuracy or it could be the bigger step of going to typing from hunt and peck, or going to touch typing from regular typing. Whatever your training needs, materials on line can assist. Here are some great ones.

Letter Accuracy GamesKeyMan – This is a type of Pacman, but instead of using the arrow keys you have to type letters to move the arrows which direct Pacman around the board. It’s a great version but probably slowest of all the games here for boosting keyboard skills. Another vintage option is Alpha Munchies which is a space invaders type game, where you are destroying aliens by typing the letter on them.  This one is probably the best of the gamified type-the-letter games I mention here. There is also Typing Ninja which is fast paced and has the added challenge of including letters you shouldn’t type (on bombs which explode). Type Revolution is a game which is a bit like guitar hero, you see the letters approach but you don’t type them until they get to the designated strip on the screen.

Word Accuracy Games – The Typing of the Ghosts – Ghosts appear with a word written on them, and you must type that word to get rid of that ghost. Multiple ghosts are after you at any one time, and you are playing to stay alive and get the best score. This is a great game for a regular training session as it’s quick and gives a score each time you play to measure your progress. The focus on words is also more useful than those games just based on letters.

Starting to Type/Touch Type – Dance Mat Typing – This is great for learning touch typing. The bottom half of your screen displays a keyboard, so it also trains you to look at the screen rather than your own keyboard. Yes, it is for kids, but it breaks down the process of touch typing so you learn the letters in the right order (starting from the Home Row which is where you fingers rest most of the time, then working on to the letters your fingers have to move across to). The first teacher is a Liverpudlian goat – what more could you want? If you do want a more grown up option try Typing Trainer.

3. Regular training and re-assessment

Reviewing your typing skills is a great one to put on a development plan to revisit every year. Include doing an annual typing assessment as part of your professional review process. If you are trying to move up a level with your skills, then programme in more regular practice and assessment.

The Theory

Some skills we are so proficient at that we are no longer consciously aware of doing them. These abilities are undertaken by our procedural memories/implicit memories. Driving a car, reading, tying your shoelaces or playing an instrument are all examples. These abilities operate without our awareness, they just get done somehow. In fact when we try to think about doing them we are likely to interrupt the process and cause mistakes. Typing is this sort of skill for a touch typist. There is no conscious ‘choice’ of which key to press, it is just ingrained with the word and/or letter recognition. But can you add typing to your procedural skills, if you didn’t learn it when you were younger?

Scientists used to think that brain architecture is pretty fixed in adulthood, however neuroscientists now recognise that the adult brain is also pliable and adaptable. This is termed neuroplasticity. So you can, via repetition, carve new procedural memories at any time in your life. It just takes a bit longer. The goods news is that putting in the time to practice is not as boring as it once was thanks to online games.

Scientists also know that you can train for new procedural memories by visualising doing the action. You don’t have to be really doing it every time for the practice to count towards forming your new procedural memory. So you could practice anywhere, even without a keyboard. We used to call these types of memories “muscle memory”, but its more about the repetition in your mind than what you do physically.

I learnt ‘keyboard skills’ when I was 14 on an electronic typewriter. We had to cover our hands with a piece of paper so we didn’t peek. We did drills of letter sequences while the teacher tapped the floor with a stick slowly increasing the tempo. I typed ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ more times than I can remember (this sentence includes all the letters of the alphabet so was the go-to practice sentence). 

My kids are 5 and 7 and are currently learning typing.  It is interesting to see how typing is still considered a worthy and integral part of our digital futures (despite the growth in touch screens and other interfaces) and that typing is taught so much earlier in life now. My five year old can’t yet read and is still learning to recognise the letters in the alphabet in upper and lower cases. Yet there are specific typing games designed to teach children who are not yet able to read letters fluently.

In conclusion, improving your typing improves your productivity. We all have the neuroplasticity to learn, and the internet provides us with the tools we need to practice this important digital skill until it becomes ingrained in our procedural memory.

Happy typing!

This post is part of the How-to June series, so subscribe to the blog to see more How-To’s and hacks.

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