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Text Complexity and Reading Comprehension Tests

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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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6. Conclusions 295

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6. Conclusions This study has investigated the text-inherent complexity and the receiver-oriented difficulty of a corpus of twenty-five reading comprehension tests. To this end, quantitative and qualitative research was carried out on the texts as well as on the tasks of the corpus and reported on in chapters 3 and 4. The thirteen calculations made use of in chapter 3 allowed for an objective measurement of various aspects of the complexity of the texts under investigation, while the qualitative analyses reported on in chapter 4 indicated some complex and marked types of cohesion in some of the tests of the corpus. The analyses described in chapter 5, on the other hand, drew on the data obtained from the administration of the tests and of the feedback questionnaires. They accounted for the difficulty of the tasks and the tests, as well as for the subjective judgement made by the test takers upon the difficulty of each text and the accompanying tasks. The data obtained by means of these different methodologies and from different sources was compared and ‘triangulated’ throughout chapters 3, 4 and 5, in order to increase the representa- tiveness of this study (see 5.1 above). As for the main results obtained by applying the quantitative calculations in chapter 3, it can be claimed, first of all, that although each calculation captured a specific aspect of the complexity of the texts, factor analysis and multidimensional scaling revealed the presence of two underlying macro-aspects: namely, one which is broadly concerned with...

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