Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN): What to Know

March 21, 2022

The act of reading requires the coordination of many cognitive skills. Students must understand that words in a given language are made up of distinct, separate sounds, and that when we read and write, these sounds are represented by letters. Not only is understanding this letter/sound code important, but the rate at which students can map sounds and letters into recognizable words is also essential. Noted literacy expert Timothy Shannahan says: “The speed with which we can analyze letters and retrieve sounds, and combine this information in short term memory matters, but so does the timing of these varied processes. It won’t work if the parts aren’t well-coordinated” (2020).

When a student is experiencing difficulty learning to read, formal and informal educational testing and teacher and family observations can all work together to give insight as to why a student might be struggling. One important measure to consider when examining a student’s cognitive profile is rapid automatized naming (RAN). The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education defines RAN as “students’ ability to rapidly name a limited set of repeatedly present known objects or letters” (DESE, 2020, p.26). Assessments that measure a student’s RAN ask individuals to rapidly name a set of items that are repeated over and over. For example, a test that measures RAN might show rows of the colors red, yellow, blue, and green repeated over and over on a page in differing patterns. To test a student’s RAN, the child must name the colors from first to last, row by row. The test is not limited to colors – any familiar objects can be used, such as animals, toys or other objects, letters, or numbers (National Center on Improving Literacy 2022).

Researchers are still studying the link between RAN ability and reading skills. Literacy expert, David Kilpatrick (2015) synthesizes the research by stating that, although there is still a high degree of uncertainty about the exact link between the ability to quickly name familiar objects and reading development, he believes that this quick assessment, done both formally and informally, can be a source of valuable information. Kilpatrick says that measuring RAN can:

  • Be a good indicator of later reading difficulties, when measured early in schooling.
  • Predict how a student might respond to intervention. Students who are struggling to master the basics of reading but who score well on a test of RAN are likely to respond quickly to interventions. The inverse is also true: a lower score on the RAN can indicate the need for more intensive intervention. It can also clarify why, outside of the effort or the quality of intervention, a student may not be making the expected progress.
  • Help make insightful determinations about best practices for instruction (Kilpatrick 2015).

Deficits in RAN can make reading progress challenging. However, such challenges hinder, but do not prevent reading acquisition. It is also important to note that targeting rapid naming as a skill itself (meaning directly practicing quickly naming colors, numbers, or other objects) will not yield improvement in reading ability (Shanahan 2020).


Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Wiley.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, & Johnson, R. D., Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (2020). Boston, MA; State of Massachusetts.

Shanahan, T. (2020, April 18) How can I teach ran to improve my students’ reading? How can I teach RAN to improve my students’ reading? | Shanahan on Literacy. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from

Rapid automatized naming tests: What you need to know. National Center on Improving Literacy. (2020, February 7). Retrieved February 23, 2022, from

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