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The Interaction of Student Major-Field Group and Text Content in TOEFL Reading Comprehension TOEFL

Hale, Gordon A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-88-01, TOEFL-RR-25
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
College Board, English, Majors (Students), Performance Factors, Reading Comprehension, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)


In light of the current emphasis on English for specific purposes, it was hypothesized that a student's major-field area interacts with the text content in determining performance on TOEFL® reading passages. To assess this possibility, the present study examined performance on the reading passages in TOEFL forms used in four operational test administrations. The results supported the study's hypothesis, as students in the two key major-field groups, the humanities/social sciences and the biological/physical sciences, performed significantly better on passages related to their own groups than on other passages, for three of the four test forms examined. Practically, the effect appears to be relatively small with typical TOEFL reading passages, perhaps because they are drawn from general readings rather than specialized textbooks. Statistically, however, the present results showed the effect to be a reliable phenomenon, even if relatively small in magnitude, thus supporting the theoretical view that a student's major-field area interrelates with the text content in determining reading performance

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