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Health, Sports & Psychology

Verbal fluency

Updated Tuesday 4th January 2005

John Oates explains verbal fluency. Have fun with our tests to measure how quickly you can think and talk

Verbal fluency is, basically, the ease with which a person can produce words. There are several tests of this ability, but most of them involve some sort of category like fruits, words beginning with the letter Q or animals. The person being tested is asked to name as many different examples of the category as they can in a fixed period of time, such as a minute.

So most tests of this sort involve more than just producing lots of words, they also involve some conscious mental processing as well. Doing a task like coming up with many different types of fruit names involves using the association area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Studies using brain scanning have shown that this part of the brain is especially active during such tests.

In the 2004 Child of our Time programme called Read My Lips, we saw that the children differed in how fluent they were. Being reasonably fluent with words is important for communication. However, being able to produce lots of words very quickly is not a measure of intelligence!

Here are some tests to measure your verbal fluency.

You will need: a stopwatch, or a watch or clock with a second hand; pencil and paper; ideally, another person to time you and count your word output.

Test 1
Speak as many fruit names as you can in thirty seconds.

Test 2
In thirty seconds, speak as many words as you can that start with the letter B.

If you are doing these tests on your own, you will need to make a tally mark for each word that you produce and then count up your tallies at the end. Tallying your words is obviously going to slow you down to some extent. If another person is timing you, ask them to count your output by making a tally mark for each word that you produce. After doing each test, you can then turn the tables on them and switch roles.

Being able to produce 10-15 words in 30 seconds shows a reasonable level of fluency.

It is unlikely that you were able to produce exactly the same number of words for each test. There is some research that shows that different parts of the brain are involved in these two different tasks.

Age is clearly a significant factor that affects performance; younger children tend to be less fluent than older children and adults. This has a lot to do with how many words are in a person’s vocabulary.

One important aspect of verbal fluency is having a large vocabulary of words to draw on. But a large word store is not all that is involved; you also need to be able to search rapidly through your vocabulary, find a word that fits the task, speak it and then repeat this until you run out of time. Some people speak much faster than others, some are quicker than others at searching for the right words and some are better at repeating the same thing over and over again! Being able to name lots of fruit also depends on the amount of experience that you have had with different fruits. So this test of verbal fluency is actually measuring quite a few different things.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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