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The Prediction of TOEFL Reading Comprehension Item Difficulty for Expository Prose Passages for Three Item Types: Main Idea, Inference, and Supporting Idea Items TOEFL

Freedle, Roy O.; Kostin, Irene W.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
RR-93-13, TOEFL-RR-44
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Construct Validity, Item Analysis, Prediction, Reading Comprehension, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)


The purpose of this study is to predict the difficulty of a large sample of TOEFL® reading comprehension items. (Only main idea, inference, and supporting statement items were sampled.) A related purpose was to examine whether text and text-related variables play a significant role in predicting item difficulty. The great majority of sentential and discourse variables identified in our review of the experimental literature were found to be significantly related to item difficulty within TOEFL's multiple-choice format. There was also a significant relationship between item difficulty and the text and text-related variables. Furthermore, in a stepwise regression analysis, we found 33 percent of the variance of item difficulty could be accounted for by eight variables. All eight variables reflected significant and independent contributions due solely to text and text/item overlap variables. These results provided evidence favoring the construct validity of the TOEFL reading comprehension items.

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