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Investigating difficult reading comprehension test items: The case of KPG exams (2013)

Efpraxia Tsapaki 
Master's Dissertation
Department of Language and Linguistics
Faculty of English Language and Literature
School of Philosophy
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

The aim of the present study has been to investigate difficult KPG reading comprehension test items across two levels of language proficiency, namely B1 and C1 level, in order to shed light a) on the cognitive processes in which test-takers engage in order to respond to reading test items and b) on the cognitive factors which contribute to the difficulty of an item. My ultimate purpose has been to identify whether significant differences there exist across the two levels of language proficiency with respect to the cognitive load variables that are inherent in the test items.

        To this effect, I systematically analyzed a body of thirty-six (36) B1 and C1 level multiple-choice items extracted from the KPG past exam papers over a period of two years, during four different administration periods. My item corpus consisted of items with a low easiness index, specifically ei ≤ 50, which means that I considered the items that proved to be difficult for 50% of the test takers or more at each of the two levels (B1 or C1) of language proficiency. The systematic analysis and critical approach of the items in focus has been conducted with the help of two members of the KPG test development team working at the RCeL with extensive experience in pre-testing the KPG exams.

        The findings of the research suggest that both test items assessing comprehension of information stated in the text and inferential test questions can be cognitively demanding for B1 and C1 level examinees. However, there are qualitative differences across levels with reference to the cognitive load factors entailed in each type of test items, ones that point to the fact that C1 reading comprehension test items are cognitively more demanding than the B1 items. In addition, test-wiseness strategies were found to hold a prominent role in test-takersí cognition, regardless of their level of proficiency. The findings of the present research may be of interest to test item writers as well as English language instructors. Suggestions for further research also provided.

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