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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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Appendix 321


Appendix Test 011 Here are four texts (1, 2, 3, 4) which talk about an eye examination. Choose the best title (‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’) for each text. (1) Since eye problems are related to physical health and hereditary factors, problems currently or previously experienced by you or your family will be identified and taken into account. What is the best title for text 1? (2) This checks your all round vision and can indicate neurological problems. What is the best title for text 2? (3) This determines if your eyes are coordinated and working together properly. What is the best title for text 3? (4) Examination of the various parts of the eye can give an overall picture of the condition of your eyes and your general health. What is the best title for text 4? (a) Interior and exterior of eyes. (b) Muscle balance analysis. (c) Visual field screening. (d) Full history and symptoms. Test 02 Our hands met. I looked him straight in the face. The smile slowly creased up into lines of thought. He waved his left hand impatiently to silence the loquacious Proprietor who had begun the parrot formula he had repeated at least fifteen times so far. ‘I have the honour, sir, to introduce …’ ‘That’s right,’ said the Minister not to anyone in particular, but to some mechanism of memory inside his head. ‘You are … no, not Nwege, … it’s Odili, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, sir’ Odili, the great,’ said the Minister...

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