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Toward a Definition of Verbal Reasoning in Higher Education

Burton, Nancy W.; Welsh, Cynthia K.; Kostin, Irene W.; Van Essen, Thomas
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Cognitive Psychology, Critical Reading, Reading Research, Reasoning Research, Verbal Reasoning, Higher Education


This paper briefly summarizes the literatures of reading and reasoning in the last quarter century, focusing mainly on the disciplines of cognitive science, cognitive developmental psychology, linguistics, and educational psychology. These literatures were synthesized to create a framework for defining verbal reasoning in higher education. Eight general cognitive and meta-cognitive operations were identified (including, for example, evaluating discourse, seeking and solving problems, and monitoring one’s comprehension). Several dimensions underlying these operations on which individual skills may vary were identified (such as breadth of understanding, precision of understanding, or familiarity and facility). Finally, these ideal descriptions of verbal reasoning are applied to the assessment of verbal reasoning for selection in higher education. Problems in measurement and unanticipated consequences of measurement are discussed.

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