Frequently Asked Questions About ETS Literacy Services

What is literacy?

Literacy is how well adults can use printed and written information to function in society, in order to achieve their goals and to develop their knowledge and potential.

What is the PDQ Profile Series?

ETS has taken the definition and framework used in various state, national and international assessments of literacy to create the PDQ Profile Series. The series consists of two tests — a full-length version and a shorter locator test — that provide accurate information about an individual's skill in using written and printed information. These measures provide information that can be used to:

  • determine if and where there is a need to improve literacy skills
  • focus teaching and learning activities better
  • compare results with those obtained in the state, national and international surveys
What are the Health Activities Literacy Tests?

Each day, millions of adults must make decisions, take actions and consider issues that influence not only their own health, but that of their family members and of their community. The Health Activities Literacy Tests, which consist of a full-length version and a shorter locator test, assess adults' ability to use written materials to perform health activities related to:

  • health promotion
  • health protection
  • disease prevention
  • health care maintenance
  • systems navigation
What is the difference between the full-length and locator tests?

The primary differences between the full-length test and the locator test in both the PDQ Profile Series and the Health Activities Literacy Tests are as follows:

  • Purpose — The purpose of the full-length test is to provide a profile of an individual's skill at performing literacy tasks or to determine whether skills have changed over time as the result of some intervention. The purpose of the locator test is to provide a general evaluation of an individual's skills at performing literacy tasks.
  • Test items — The full-length test consists of a short set of background questions plus three sets of health-related literacy tasks that incorporate prose, document and quantitative items. The locator test contains a subset of the tasks in the full-length test.
  • Time — The time needed for the locator test is less than for the full-length test. The tests are not timed or speeded. Instead, test takers can work at their own pace within a reasonable period of time.
    • For the PDQ Profile Series, the full-length test takes about 90 minutes, while the locator test takes about 50 to 60 minutes.
    • For the Health Activities Literacy Tests, the full-length test requires, on average, about an hour of testing time, while the locator test usually requires only about 30 to 40 minutes.
Where can I take the tests?

These tests are available electronically.

How can I prepare for one of these tests?

To prepare for any of the literacy tests, you can view a Flash tutorial that allows you to learn how to answer the questions in the tests and review basic mouse skills.

You may also want to practice a set of sample questions. To view these questions, first click on this sample test questions link to go to the ETS® Literacy Services screen. Then click the "Sample Test Questions" button at the bottom of that screen to view the literacy demo.

What do the literacy scores mean?

Your literacy scores will be provided in an easy-to-read score report after you have taken the test. The score reports are descriptive in that they characterize your strengths and weaknesses on three literacy proficiency scales, prose, document and quantitative, for the PDQ Profile Series and along a single health activities literacy scale for the Health Activities Literacy Tests.

For the full-length tests, your score will be given in five-point increments, ranging from 0 to 500, for each of the three scales. Each score will fall into one of five levels, representing a progression of literacy knowledge and skills. For the locator tests, your score will be given in these levels: Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 and higher.

How were the tests designed?

Each task used in the test design represents a piece of evidence about a person's literacy. Three task characteristics were identified and used in the construction of tasks:

  • Adult Contexts/Content — Because adults read within a particular context or for a particular purpose, materials for the literacy assessment were selected that represent a variety of contexts and contents: home and family, health and safety, community and citizenship, consumer economics, work and leisure and recreation.
  • Materials/Texts — Text in the tests represent a range of materials that can be classified into two types: continuous texts (prose formed of sentences organized into paragraphs) and noncontinuous texts (materials that have many different organizational patterns or formats that allow the reader to employ different strategies for entering and extracting information from them).
  • Processes/Strategies — This task characteristic refers to the way in which examinees process text to respond correctly to a question or directive. It includes the processes used to relate information in the question (the given information) to the necessary information in the text (the new information) as well as the processes needed to either identify or construct the correct response from the information available. These strategies included locating, cycling, integrating and generating information, as well as formulating and calculating for the quantitative tasks.
What are the technical specifications for the tests?

The technical specifications for all of the tests are detailed in a PDF document.

Each of the tests was based on frameworks that were created from a variety of adult literacy surveys that ETS researchers have conducted over the years.