skip to main content skip to footer

Effects of Prose Complexity on Achievement Test Item Difficulty GRE NTE

Scheuneman, Janice Dowd; Gerritz, Kalle; Embretson, Susan
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Achievement Tests, Difficulty Level, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Item Analysis, Linguistics, National Teacher Examinations (NTE)


Better understanding of sources of difficulty in test items would improve the test development process by bringing the functioning of items more under the control of the test developer. To help increase this understanding, a study was undertaken to evaluate the effects of various aspects of prose complexity on the difficulty of achievement test items. The items of interest were those that presented a verbal stimulus followed by a question about the stimulus and a standard set of multiple-choice options. Items were selected for study from two tests with differing demands on an examinee's knowledge base, NTE Communications Skills and GRE Subject Test in Psychology. Standard multiple regression analyses and Embretson's model fitting procedures were used to evaluate the contribution of various complexity factors to the prediction of difficulty. These factors, which included measures of item structure, readability, semantic content, cognitive demand and knowledge demand, were found to be successful in predicting item difficulty for these items. The immediate usefulness of the results for test development practice, however, is limited by the fact that only a single item type was studied and by the time required to develop the complexity measures. (53pp.)

Read More