Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing logo

Disk tutorial * £29.99 * Software Toolworks
MAVIS BEACON is available from Software Toolworks 0444 246333

YOU MAY NOT be aware of the Mavis Beacon legacy, but her typist teaching packages have been widely acclaimed as the definitive tutorial systems. The Mavis system helps reinforce typing principles and develop techniques. Lessons take the form of racing games, which help increase your speed and an intelligent typewriter monitors your performance and spelling.

The good thing about this package is that you do not have to be a complete novice to benefit from it. The Mavis system is accessible at three levels - you are asked to define your skill level when you create a user identity, and from this Mavis learns about your proficiency.

For the first few lessons, Mavis gauges your level of skill to identify which areas of your ability need practice. Most lessons reveal a double-spaced block of text that you must attempt to copy without looking at the keyboard.

The letters you type appear under the set text, errors and the speed at which you type are noted so that Mavis can set an appropriate task which focuses on areas you have difficulty with.

The depth which Mavis scrutinises your performance is an impressive feat of statistics. Mavis reacts so that you quickly correct your faults and since each lesson focuses on a specific area, you get to the root of your problems straightaway. Eventually the program becomes a 'mother-like' figure, cajoling you into repeating one of the less interesting lessons when you want to race away at the 'Speed-typing Racetrack'.

It is hard to see how anyone with 10 fingers and a little common sense would not benefit from Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 2. It is a well researched and well written program that is easy to use and flexible. It is an invaluable way of monitoring your performance as a typist from complete novice right through to an 80-word a minute super secretary.

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing logo

Nick Veitch attempts to find out whether ten fingers are better than two.

There are some supreme achievements that have marked man's progress through the swirls of history: the development of language, the construction of the Great Pyramid, powered flight, rockets landing on the moon and RSA standard typing.

You may prioritise these in some other way, but for me the ability to knock out over 100 words a minute on a keyboard is akin to climbing Everest. Apparently though, it is not a prime requisite to sell your soul to the devil. It seems that ordinary people can achieve this Herculean feat without resort to pentagrams and incense. All you need is a bit of training.

Mavis Beacon is well known, we understand, for her amazing typing ability. Well, maybe she is, but at CU Towers we only remember her from the original Mavis Beacon program. Anyway, this is a structured typing tutorial, designed by an expert.

The approach is quite entertaining. There are several modules to work through and you may start at one of three skill levels. Firstly there is a section which simply tests you on your speed. Text appear on the screen which you have to follow in order to give you a bit of a hand there is a set of ghost hands which appears over a keyboard in the bottom half of the window. At the end of about 100 words of text you are given a breakdown of your performance.

As well as a pure speed in words per minute there is also an accuracy test which gives an effective WPM with deductions for the errors. These lessons will introduce new combinations of letters to drive the user forward in terms of flexibility. At the novice level these sessions will be the ones which introduce new characters.

If a mistake is made in this mode it should be corrected. Mistakes are allowed to stand, but if you make an error with a space it can throw out the whole rest of the sentence being typed. Other training modes will simply not accept incorrect keystrokes (but they will tot them up and use them against you when the session is over).

There are two games in the software which provide a fun aspect to learning. In the typing tutor you get to race a car. In order to keep in front you must type in the words which scroll across the sky in front of you.

The opponent's car will go at a steady speed but you will often find your own vehicle surging ahead and suddenly dying as you come across familiar words and phrases. Mistakes will cause some rather grotesque smearing experiences involving the windscreen and a member of the local insect population.

The keypad game is a little harder. Items roll along a simulated checkout till towards a shopping bag. As they pass over the scanner a price will flash up which has to be entered before the cabbage or whatever continues its journey. Unfortunately, even in complete novice mode, the length of time is very small. This game is not quite as exciting.

Mavis attempts to make the lessons interesting by varying the text and interspersing the new material with fun games. The games themselves are a bit primitive, but it is a change from just repetitive typing exercises. Each of the different styles of lesson incorporates all the classic devices of typing courses so there is no doubt as to the academic credentials of this package.

As with all training software though, it is only effective if the user really wants to learn. Mavis Beacon may be significantly more interesting than more traditional education packages, but it still does not beat a game of Sensible Soccer. It does look a bit too much like a PC port, but then the PC version is £70 more expensive, so maybe you should count yourself lucky.