Running records

A Running Record is an assessment tool which provides an insight into a student’s reading as it is happening (Clay, 1993).

A Running Record provides information on the following:

  • a score of word reading accuracy
  • an analysis of a reader's errors and self-corrections
  • an analysis of the reading strategies used.

Using a series of established conventions, a teacher can quickly and accurately record what the reader says as they read a text or section of a text aloud. After the reading, the teacher completes an analysis.


There is a set of universal conventions (developed by Clay, 1993) which allow teachers to accurately record what a child articulates as they read a text or section of a text.

Using the agreed conventions ensures colleagues and other professionals also can understand and interpret the running record. This promotes consistency of approach because all stakeholders (e.g. classroom teachers, members of a professional learning team, literacy coordinators, leadership teams, allied health professionals and/or parents) can accurately see and understand a record of a student's reading at a given point in time.

To access examples of conventions, seeRunning record conventions (docx - 797.7kb)

Levels of text difficulty

According to the number of errors and self-corrections, a mathematical formula is used to determine the level of text difficulty. For example:

Readers who score 95-100% word accuracy

Are decoding texts which are easy and do not provide any challenges for problem solving strategies. These texts are useful for promoting phrasing, fluency and vocabulary recognition.

Readers who score 90-94% word accuracy

Are decoding instructional texts which have the 'right' amount of challenge for developing and practising new reading strategies. This level of text difficulty will be just 'right' if the teacher provides guidance and feedback to ensure students can practise the new skills and support.

Readers who score below 90% word accuracy

Are decoding text that is too hard, will most likely in a loss of meaning or engagement with the text. These texts are best to read to students.


To progress the reading skills of students, teachers aim to work with their students on instructional level texts.

In selecting instructional level texts, teachers are able to identify the supports necessary for successful reading but still allow enough processing and problem solving opportunities for the reader to develop a repertoire of reading strategies that will eventually lead to reading independence.

In addition to the Running Record and its analysis, two other important aspects must be assessed to give a teacher a full insight into what a student does when they read. These are:

A comment on how the reading sounded
  • is the reading phrased and fluent?
  • was expression used?
  • was the reading word by word?
  • were there pauses at appropriate punctuation?

Additional analyses

Straight after the reading, the teacher makes notes on how the reading sounded. Making a comment on fluency is important as there are no Running Record symbols to represent this.


In this example, the reading sounded word by word (w x w). The reader also did not pause at full stops or commas. Fluency is an important element when reading because it is closely aligned to comprehension. “Once fluency has been achieved, the reader’s total attention can be focused on meaning” (Konza, 2016, p. 161). The reader in this example did not use fluent reading which may have contributed to their inconsistent comprehension levels when asked about the text after the reading. A focus on reading in phrased groups of words and recognising and using punctuation is required for this reader.

Another contributing factor to the word by word reading may have been due to the reader finger-tracking the text. To improve fluency, the reader needs to be able to run their eyes quickly over lines of text. Levelled texts have been designed to help with fluency. The placement of the words into lines replicates the phrasing a reader must use when they read fluently. Once a reader has one-to-one word matching with the text, they should be encouraged to replace finger tracking with eye tracking.

Determining comprehension levels

Can the student:

  • retell the text in sequential order?
  • answer literal questions? (Right there on the page)
  • answer inferential questions? (Use background knowledge and text clues or search the text)
  • answer evaluative questions? (‘Big picture’ concepts that the text has addressed).

Additional analyses

Reading comprehension has been described as “the act of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning from text” (Hill, 2015, p. 215). The reader must first decode the symbols, illustrations, diagrams and text layout to extract meaning and then actively relate these ideas to their own knowledge or schema (Kintsch, 1988) about the topic and merge together to construct new understanding.


In this Running Record, the reader was asked to retell the story in sequence and then answer 3 levels of questions - literal, inferential and evaluative.


The retell included the main characters and why the brothers wanted to grow a great pumpkin. It also included the outcome of the story. However, some of the detail was left out. This detail was important because it showed the smallest brother doing all the work (i.e. planting, digging, watering, weeding and harvesting). This is the detail which would have helped the reader make an accurate inference and help contribute to the evaluative answer also.


The reader successfully answered the literal question by finding the answer directly in the text.


  • the reader did not make a successful inference
  • the reader referred to the text clue 'We have too much to do', but in a literal way. They interpreted that to mean the brothers were busy. However, they ignored the illustrations which told a different meaning. They also did not draw on any prior knowledge of evasive tactics and how siblings/family members/friends opt out of tasks they do not want to do.

A future learning goal should focus on asking and answering inferential questions.


The reader did make an evaluative response based on their own experiences of being encouraged to share with siblings. Therefore, on one level the answer has to be considered partially correct.

However, if the reader had a greater depth of understanding and realised the oldest brothers were lazy and chose not to help the smallest brother, the answer would have reflected this deeper understanding. They still may have opted to comment on the ‘unfairness’ of the smallest brother for not sharing, but their reasoning would have included a justification for this.

Successful reading means decoding levels are commensurate with comprehension levels. If comprehension is not evident, it is advised to read widely within a level and include a range of texts types. Explicitly teach comprehension strategies and ensure students know how to answer different levels of comprehension questions. Students make progress only when both decoding and comprehension are aligned.

All of this information can then be used to develop targeted learning intentions which will inform future teaching and student learning. A Running Record has a relevance span of about three weeks.

For an accurate picture of a student’s reading, Running Records should be taken on a passage of text with 100-150 words or the entire text if less than that.


Running Records are scored and a conversion rate is used to calculate a percentage accuracy score.

When students are able to read a text with 90-94% accuracy, the opportunity to learn about reading and to problem solve is maximised.

According to the analyses, the teacher will then group students into ‘like groups’ based on learning needs and match these needs to an appropriate text.

Traditionally, texts commonly known as levelled texts, have been organised or categorised according to degree of difficulty or complexity to support developing readers. However, non-levelled texts can also be used if they can be aligned carefully to a student’s instructional level (i.e. a running record on a text determines whether that text is easy, instructional or hard for the reader). 

For more information, visit Guided reading - theory to practice

A score of word reading accuracy (First level analysis)

Error rate

The number of errors made whilst reading signals how difficult a text is.

To determine the error rate, a teacher needs to:

  • count the number of words in the section of text or whole text read (100 to 150 words is ideal but smaller texts in their entirety can be used too)
  • divide this by the number of errors recorded.

For example, An error rate of 1:10 means for every 10 words read, one error is made.

For optimal learning, readers should make no more than one error every 10 to 19 words (90 to 94% accuracy). For more information, read: Conversion chart (docx - 208.78kb)

Each error is analysed in a Running Record. At the point of error, the teacher asks “What source/s of information was the reader using when they made the error?”

MSV is recorded in the Information Used (E) section of the Running Record and the specific sources of information used to contribute to the error are identified and circled as to whether the reader was using:

  • semantic cues (meaning)
  • syntactic cues (structure)
  • graphophonic cues (visual).

Self correction rate

To determine the self correction rate of a Running Record, a teacher needs to:

  • add the number of self corrections with the number of errors
  • divide by the number of self corrections.

A self correction rate of 1: 4 means for every four errors, one is self corrected. 

Anything larger than this ratio would usually signal that the reader is not attending to the text and the meaning has been compromised.

Self corrections are analysed twice. First the error is analysed in terms of the sources of information used. We cannot know for certain why the student self-corrected, but we can make an educated guess by carefully observing what the student does and asking the following question:

What additional information did the reader use to notice there was an error and fix it up?

  • did they consider the meaning and make another attempt of the word so that it made sense?
  • did they recognise that it did not sound right and went back and reread correctly (structure)?
  • did they look at the whole word and notice the ending (for example) and correct it (visual)?
  • did they use a combination of some or all of these sources?

Sources of information

Readers use different sources of information to actively process meaning from text. These sources of information may be described as reading cues. Information that readers use comes from:

their experience in the world (Meaning)

Does it makes sense?

Meaning sources information (semantic) relate to the reader's knowledge of the subject. Using their understandings and familiarity with the topic, readers can make predictions about the content of a story and about words that are likely to be in the text. They also draw on meaning from the illustrations.

Key elements: prior knowledge, sense of story, reference to illustrations, knowledge of text type.

from their understanding of language (Structural)

Does it sound right? Can we say it that way in English?

Structural sources of information (syntactic) relate to the reader's knowledge of how our language is spoken and of 'book language'. This includes the way sentences are formed and linked together, knowledge of words and knowledge of grammar.

Key elements: knowledge of English, grammatical patterns and language structures, book language.

from the print (Visual)

Does it look right?

Visual sources of information (graphophonic) enable the reader to predict text based on the reader's experience and understanding of letters, words and sound relationships and the ways these are represented in print.

Key elements: concepts of print, sounds and symbols, letters, phonic relationships, words and spaces, breaking words into parts, syllables, diagraphs, blends, prefixes/suffixes/base words, punctuation.

Effective readers integrate all 3 sources of information to understand what they read.


Note that this is not necessarily a linear sequence. A reader may start with looking at the visual information first and then checking with seantic and structural information.


A reader comes to an unknown word in a sentence:

It ____ across the grass.

The reader knows the word is likely to be a verb because of their knowledge of language structure. This is referred to as structural or syntactic information.


The reader then considers the preceding sentence in the text.

John let his pet rabbit go.  It ____ across the grass.

Now the reader has further information. They draw on their prior knowledge about rabbits to help them predict how rabbits might move. They can predict that the verb is likely to be ‘hopped’ or ‘jumped’. Referring to prior knowledge to assist the reading process is known as using meaning or semantic information.


Readers now need only a little further information to determine what the word is.  

John let his pet rabbit go. It h____ across the grass.

In this case the initial letter matched to the phoneme /h/ is probably enough to enable the reader to accurately predict the word to be ‘hopped’. This is referred to as visual or graphophonic information.

Looking at the remaining letters in the word will provide further visual information for the reader to check their prediction of the word.

Effective readers will use all sources of knowledge and cross check one source of information with other sources of information.

More information

To download an example, see: Reading Record example (docx - 701.16kb)