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Text Complexity and Reading Comprehension Tests


Erik Castello

Based on the analysis of a specially compiled corpus of internationally recognized English as a foreign language (EFL) reading tests at different levels of proficiency, this volume explores the relation between the complexity of written texts and the difficulty of reading comprehension tests. It brings together linguistic investigations into the text-inherent complexity of the tests and a study of the data derived from their administration to groups of Italian university students. The study of text complexity draws on corpus linguistics, text linguistics and systemic functional linguistics. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses are carried out on the language used in the reading texts and in the related tasks that make up the corpus of tests. The assessment of test difficulty, on the other hand, is informed by research on language testing, and, in particular, by findings and methodologies of Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory. Relevant aspects of these theories are used to analyze and interpret both the data obtained from the administration of the tests and the data collected by means of feedback questionnaires completed by test takers. The application of such diverse methodologies and the subsequent comparison of the results of the analyses has brought out interesting correlations between text-inherent complexity, perceived test difficulty and actual test difficulty.


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Thanks and Acknowledgements 9


Thanks and Acknowledgements The author and publisher are grateful to the following for permission to reproduce copyright material as specified below. It has not always been possible to identify the sources of all the reading texts used in the tests analysed or to contact the copyright holders, and in such cases the author and the publisher would welcome information from the copyright owners. Tests 1 to 10 © DIALANG . Tests 11 and 12 Excerpts pp. 345-346 and 351-352. From Longman Complete Course for the TOEFL Test, Preparation for the Computer and Paper Tests by Deborah Phillips. Copyright © 2001 by Addison-Wesley Longman, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc. Test 13 Test taken from Heinemann TOEFL Preparation Course. Copyright © M.K. Mahnke, Carolyn Duffy & Jacqeline Flamm, 1996. Reproduced with permission of Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Tests 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 22, and 23 University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, Cambridge IELTS 2 Student’s Book with Answers, (2001), Preliminary English Test 2 Student’s Book, (2001), Cambridge First Certificate in English 4 Student’s Book, (2001),© UCLES, reprinted with permission of the publisher (Cambridge University Press) and UCLES. Test 17 The Independent for the extract from “Green wave washes mainstream shopping” by David Nicholson-Lord. 10 Tests 18, 20, 21, 24, and 25 University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. Excerpts adapted from “Sample paper R&W PET.pdf”, downloaded from and “Sample Paper R CAE.pdf” downloaded from , © University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations.

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