Rapid automatized naming tests: What you need to know

At a glance

  • Rapid automatized naming (RAN) is the ability to quickly name aloud a series of familiar items.

  • There are a number of published RAN tests; they’re similar to one another.

  • RAN test scores can predict future reading skills.

If your child is being tested for reading, , or slow processing speed, you may hear the term rapid automatized naming (RAN). It refers to the ability to quickly name aloud a series of familiar items on a page. These include letters, numbers, colors, or objects. Other names for it are rapid automatic naming or rapid naming.

Performance on a RAN test is based on how fast children can name in order all the items presented on the page, compared to other kids their age. Kids with reading issues are frequently slower on RAN tests. So the tests are often used as part of a comprehensive reading evaluation. They’re also used for the early identification of kids who are at risk for reading problems.

How RAN tests work

RAN tests generally show four types of items: objects, colors, letters, and numbers. Small sets of items in the same category (for example, five small squares of several different colors) are presented in rows on a page. But the order in which they appear changes from row to row.

The examiner typically starts by going over the names of the set of items with the child. Then, for the test itself, the child has to name all of the items aloud as quickly as possible, from first to last, row by row.

Both the time the child needs to name the items and the child’s accuracy are recorded. But the time is what’s of interest.

RAN tests don’t measure vocabulary knowledge. Nor are they about recognizing letters and numbers. They’re really tests of fluency.

That’s why, to get the best information from a RAN test, the evaluator should test only items the child knows well. For example, a preschooler may not know their letters or numbers. So the preschooler might be shown only colors and objects.

How RAN connects to reading

Experts agree that RAN tests can tell us a lot about kids’ reading skills. But they don’t all see eye to eye on why. There are two main viewpoints. Both have plenty of research to support them.

One view focuses on how we recall and say the sounds for the names of the items. The belief is that RAN affects reading because it involves how well we can retrieve phonological information.

Research shows that kids who struggle in this area are very likely to struggle with reading. But some experts think it involves more than just phonological awareness.

They believe reading brings together a number of complex processes. These involve our verbal, visual, and motor systems. Experts say RAN covers all of them, serving almost as a small-scale version of reading even before kids actually learn to read.

Kids with problems in both RAN and phonemic awareness have what’s called a “double deficit.” They usually have more severe reading problems. And they may have a harder time improving their reading than kids who struggle only with phonemes, the smallest unit of sounds in words.

Strengths and weaknesses of RAN tests

By itself, a poor RAN score may not tell you very much about your child’s needs. Kids may have difficulty with RAN for many different reasons. These include attention issues, executive functioning issues, language issues, or even math issues.

Sometimes, a poor RAN score is nothing to worry about at all. That’s especially likely if there aren’t any other areas of concern.

But a RAN test plus other carefully chosen measurements can be important in spotting reading issues. Many kindergarten teachers give a screening test at the start of the school year.

They may also give tests that monitor a child’s progress throughout the year, like the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS). These often look at rapid naming and phonemic awareness, among other skills. But the format may be different than the RAN tests.

RAN tests can be an important tool in recognizing that your child might be at risk. That can be the first step to getting extra help for your pre-reader if your child needs it. Ask the school to make sure you get the information about these tests and results.

For older kids with reading issues, the tests can help identify core reading problems. They can also guide the plan for teaching your child more effectively.

No matter what age your child is, RAN scores are a key element in pinpointing your child’s exact reading needs. Once you know what they are, there are many treatments and therapies that can help your child learn to read more easily.

Key takeaways

  • Screening tests, progress monitoring tools, and neuropsychological evaluations include measures of RAN.

  • Researchers are still studying the link between RAN ability and reading skills.

  • RAN tests can be very helpful for early identification of reading issues. Testing for RAN skills should be considered as one part of a reading evaluation.


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