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The Prediction of SAT Reading Comprehension Item Difficulty for Expository Prose Passages SAT

Freedle, Roy O.; Kostin, Irene W.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Difficulty Level, Prediction, Reading Comprehension, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)


The primary goal of this project was to examine the predictability of SAT reading item difficulty (equated delta) for main idea items, and collectively, the predictability of three major reading item types: main idea, inference and explicit statement items. A secondary purpose in predicting item difficulty was to contrast the responses of high verbal and low verbal ability examinees. Primary attention was paid to studying 110 main idea reading items and their associated passages. However, additional results are reported for 285 reading items taken from 34 disclosed SAT forms which represented a wider range of reading types. The percent variance of main idea item difficulty accounted for varied from 46% to 59% depending upon the particular analysis. The predictability of all three reading item types (n = 285) varied from 21% to 29%, depending upon the particular analysis. Details of item predictability were explored by evaluating several hypotheses. Results indicated that (1) multiple-choice reading items are sensitive to variables similar to those reported in the experimental litera-ture on comprehension, (2) many of these variables provide significant independent predictive information in regression analyses, (3) the placement (early versus middle of text) of relevant main idea information affects item difficulty, and (4) considerable agreement between SAT and GRE reading predictability was found. Additional results contrast the performance of high and low ability groups. (68pp.)

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