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Passage Dependence of the New SAT Reading Comprehension Questions SAT

Powers, Donald E.; Wilson, Susan T.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Construct Validity, Performance Factors, Reading Comprehension, Scholastic Assessment Test, Test Items, Test Taking Behavior


It has been reasonably well established that test takers can, to varying degrees, answer some reading comprehension questions correctly without reading the passages on which the questions are based. This is true even for carefully constructed measures such as the College Board's SAT®. As a result, the use of reading scores, including those from the SAT, as valid indicators of reading comprehension has been challenged. The major aim of this study was to determine the strategies by which examinees are able to achieve better-than-chance performances without reading the passages. The focus of the research was a sample of reading comprehension questions similar to those that will be used in the revised SAT, to be introduced in 1994. Sets of reading comprehension questions were administered, without the passages, to a sample of verbally able students in eight secondary schools across the country. After attempting the task, these students were asked to complete a questionnaire describing the strategies they had used. The most often cited strategies involved choosing answers on the basis of consistency with other questions and reconstructing the main theme of a missing passage from all the questions and answers in a set. These strategies were also more likely to result in successful performance on individual test items than were any of the many other possible (and less construct-relevant) strategies. Implications are discussed with regard to the construct validity of the new SAT reading comprehension questions and the advice that should be given to prospective SAT takers

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