Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF)

What is NWF?

Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF) is a brief, direct measure of the alphabetic principle and basic phonics. It assesses knowledge of basic letter-sound correspondences and the ability to blend letter sounds into consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) and vowel-consonant (VC) words. The test items used for NWF are phonetically regular make-believe (nonsense or pseudo) words. To successfully complete the NWF task, students must rely on their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and how to blend sounds into whole words. One reason that nonsense word measures are considered to be a good indicator of the alphabetic principle is that “pseudo-words have no lexical entry, [and thus] pseudo-word reading provides a relatively pure assessment of students’ ability to apply grapheme-phoneme knowledge in decoding” (Rathvon, 2004, p. 138).

Following a model and a practice item, the student is presented with a sheet of randomly ordered VC and CVC nonsense words (e.g., dif, ik, nop). Standardized directions are used to ask the student to read the make-believe words the best they can, reading either the whole word or saying any sounds they know. For example, if the stimulus word is tof, the student could say /t/ /o/ /f/ or “tof.” The assessor underlines each correct letter sound produced either in isolation or blended together. Whole words read without sounding out are underlined in their entirety

There are two separate scores reported for NWF:

  • Correct Letter Sounds (CLS) is the number of letter sounds produced correctly in 1 minute. For example, if the student reads dif as /d/ /i/ /f/ the score for Correct Letter Sounds is 3. If the student reads dif as /di/ /f/ or “dif,” the score is also 3.
  • Whole Words Read (WWR) is the number of make-believe words read correctly as a whole word, one time and only one time, without first being sounded out. For example, if the student reads dif as “dif,” the score is 3 points for CLS and 1 point for WWR, but if the student reads dif as “/d/ /i/ /f/ dif,” the score is 3 points for CLS but 0 points for WWR.

The goal is for students to read whole words on NWF; however, an advantage of NWF is that it allows for monitoring the development of the alphabetic principle and basic phonics as early as the middle of kindergarten, when producing individual letter sounds is the more common response.



Essential Early Literacy and Reading Skill  

  Alphabetic Principle and Basic Phonics

Administration Time  

  1 minute

Administration Schedule  

  Middle of kindergarten to beginning of second grade


  • Number of Correct Letter Sounds (CLS)

  • Number of Whole Words Read (WWR) without sounding out

Wait Rule  

If the student responds sound-by-sound, mixes sounds and words, or sounds out and recodes, allow 3 seconds, then provide the correct letter sound.

If the student responds with whole words, allow 3 seconds, then provide the correct word.

Discontinue Rule  

  No correct letter sounds in the first row


Scoring Rules and Tips

Correct Letter Sounds (CLS): The student receives credit for 1 CLS for each correct letter sound read in isolation or read as part of a make-believe word.

Whole Words Read (WWR): The student receives credit for 1 WWR for each whole word read correctly, one time and only one time, without first being sounded out.

  1. Mark each letter sound the student says correctly, either in isolation or blended with other sounds in the word. For CLS, score the student’s final answer. For WWR, give credit only if the student’s first and only answer was to read the whole word correctly without first sounding it out.
  2. Mark any incorrect letter sound.
  3. Leave blank any omitted letter sounds or words. When a student is reading sound-by-sound, leave blank any inserted letter sounds. When the student is reading word-by-word, mark to indicate any inserted letter sounds.
  4. Mark “sc” above any letter sound that had been previously slashed and was self-corrected within 3 seconds. Count that letter sound as correct. Credit is given for WWR only when the student reads the whole word completely and correctly the first time, and reads the word only once.
  5. Mark any row the student skips. Do not count the row when scoring.

For more information please see the Assessment Manual located on the

Acadience® Reading K–6 download page.