Until recently the many and diverse reading skills and strategies for use in everyday situations have been largely subordinate to a narrower  range of skills required for dealing with simplified readers, especially at the elementary levels. Furthermore, on a few language courses, efficient reading skills have been pushed into the background in an attempt to develop oral fluency skills. Attempts at dealing with the many complex reading skills frequently come too late, at the tertiary level (i.e. at university, technical college), when students suddenly find themselves confronted with professional and technical literature in the foreign language.
     Before reading tests in the second or foreign language can be successfully constructed, the first language reading skills of the students must be ascertained. Clearly there is often little purpose in testing in the second language those basic reading skills which the students have not yet developed in their own language. However, the mere fact that a student has mastered come of the required reading skills in the first language is no guarantee at all that he or she will be able to transfer those skills to reading another language.
     At this stage in our examination of reading difficulties, it would be helpful to attempt to identify some of the specific skills involved in reading. Broadly speaking, these can be defined as the ability to:
– recognize words and word groups, associating sounds with their corresponding graphic symbols:
– deduce the meaning of words by
   (a) understanding word formation (roots, affixation, derivation and compounding);
   (b) contextual clues (e.g. One of the members of the group exposed the plot, and the police were soon able to arrest the leaders.);
– understand explicitly stated information (e.g. I wish Ann had come, = Ann did not come – hence my wish);
– understand relations within the sentence, especially
   (a) elements of sentence structure
   (b) negation
   (c) fronting and theme
   (d) complex embedding;
– understand relations between parts of a text through both lexical devices (e.g. repetition, synonyms, antithesis) and grammatical cohesive devices, especially anaphoric and cataphoric reference (e.g. he, they, it; the former, the latter) and connectives (e.g. since, after, because, although, however, in addition);
– perceive temporal and spatial relationships, and also sequences of ideas;
– understand conceptual meaning, especially
   (a) quantity and amount
   (b) definiteness and indefiniteness
   (c) comparison and degree
   (d) means and instrument
   (e) cause, result, purpose, reason, condition, addition, contrast, concession;
– anticipate  and predict what will come next in the text;
– identify the main idea and other salient features in a text;
– generalize and draw conclusions;
– understand information not explicitly stated by
   (a) making inferences (i.e. reading between the lines)
   (b) understanding figurative language;
– skim and scan (looking for general meaning and reading for specific information);
– read critically;
– adopt a flexible approach and vary reading strategies according to the type of material being read and the purpose for which it is being read.
     No mention has been made here of reading aloud, since this particular skill is unique in that it involves different skills from silent reading.
     Two different kinds of complementary reading activities to which students are usually exposed are generally classified as intensive and extensive reading. Sort reading extracts of a moderate degree of difficulty and containing features which merit detailed study form a basis for intensive reading practice.
The tests described in the first half of this section are concerned purely with word and sentence recognition. They test students’ ability to discriminate visually between words which are spelt in fairly similar ways. If used in exercise material and progress tests, these test items will assist in developing word recognition speed. Though not administered as speed tests in the strict sense in the very early stages word and sentence matching items should be covered by the students as quickly as possible. Once the students have gained familiarity and confidence with this type of test, their performances should be rimed so that they are forced to red under some pressure. At first, it is advisable to confine the words used in the items to those already encountered orally; later a number of words not encountered orally should be introduced. 
Word matching
The testees are required to draw a line under the word which is the same as the word on the left.
sheep                   shop/shape/sleep/heap/sheep
ever                     never/over/ever/fewer/even
top                      top/stop/tap/pot/ton
wonder                wander/wonder/window/wonder/won
has gone              is gone/his won/has gone/his game/had gone
clothes                 cloth/clothing/cloths/clots/clothes
most pleasant       most pleasant/more pleasant/most present/most peasants/not pleasant
Sentence matching
This item is similar to the word-matching item. The testees are required to recognize as quickly as possible sentences which consist of the same words in the same order. They read a sentence, followed by four similar sentences, only one of which is exactly the same as the previous one.
1.  Tom is not going to your school.
     A.  Tom is not going to your pool.
     B.  Tom is going to your school.
     C.  Tom is not coming to your school.
     D.  Tom is not going to your school.
2.  The thief can hide in the jungle.
     A.  The thief can die in the jungle.
     B.  The thieves can hide in the jungle.
     C.  The thief can be hidden in the jungle.

              D.  The thief can hide in the jungle.

Type 2   This type is similar to the previous one but is much more economical in that only one picture is required for each item (instead of four).  The testees look at a picture and read four sentences, only one of which is about the picture. They then have to select the correct sentence.

Jenny is throwing the ball .

B.      Jenny is kicking the ball.
C.      Jenny is beating the ball.
D.     Jenny is holding the ball.
A.      The man under the tree is reading his book.

The man resting under the tree is looking at his book.

C.      The man with the book is sleeping under the tree.
D.    The man carrying the book is going to sit down under the tree.

The following item type is included to provide another example of how reading comprehension matching tests can be based on dictionary. Again, the item is intended for use at a fairly advanced level.
Enclosed hut groups are characteristic settlements in the area and remains of more than a hundred still exist. The open settlements, the villages of predominantly unenclosed huts, are not numerous but only a dozen groups have sufficient numbers of co-ordinated huts to be described as villages. Though there may be some walls in these villages, they are only fragmentary.
     Many enclosed settlements have disappeared but one still extent is Rides Rys. It consists of two enclosures, one roughly square and a larger one roughly oblong in plan with a shared wall. An area of six acres was enclosed containing more than thirty buildings. The large enclosure, as in the case of other multiple settlements, had been built on to the smaller and indicates an expanding community.
The following dictionary definitions are for words used in the passage Settlements. Write the words from the passage next to the appropriate definition.
having or involving more than one part as an individual      ……………
serving as representative                                                    ……………
becoming greater in size                                                    ……………
enough to meet a need or purpose                                    ……………
having something in common                                           ……………
in most cases                                                                   ……………
is a sight of                                                                      ……………
very near to; approximate                                                  ……………
broken off or incomplete                                                  ……………
in existence; surviving                                                       ……………
Type 1   It can be argued that the type of item in this section is in many ways a test of vocabulary rather than of reading comprehension. These particular items, however, have been included here because it is felt that a comprehension of the text is generally of at least as much importance as an understanding of the meaning of the words for selection. The following three examples show the use of this item type at elementary, intermediate and advanced levels respectively.
  1. the eyes are wonderful teachers – even musicians, who deal with sounds, learn as much by (doing, playing, watching, practicing) as by listening.
  2. the housewife who could not afford to buy clothes would spend hours at her spinning wheel, spinning her wool into yarn – a job which took little skill but required a lot of (ability, patience, talent, wisdom) and was done by the fireside during the long winter evenings.
  3. two-thirds of the country’s (fuel, endeavour, industry, energy) comes from imported oil, while the remaining one-third comes from coal. Moreover, soon the country will have its first nuclear power station.
Type 2   Just as the previous item type is closely related to the testing of vocabulary, so this type is perhaps more accurately described as a test of comprehension of grammatical structure. The testees are required to identify the correct paraphrase of a statement from a choice of four of five. They are told in the rubric that the (four) statements may refer to the entire sentence or only part of the sentence. Again, examples are provided for each of the three general levels.
     1. John is not as taller as Sally but he’s a little taller than Rick.
        A. Sally is taller than John and Rick.
        B. John is not as tall as Rick.
        C. Sally is taller than John but not as tall as Rick
        D. Rick is taller than John and Sally.
     2. In spite of the loud music, I soon managed to fall asleep.
        A. The loud music soon helped me to fall asleep.
        B. I soon fell asleep as a result of the loud music.
        C. The loud music made me unable to fall asleep soon.
        D. I soon fell asleep even though the music was loud.
     3. If you’d forgotten to put out your hand, you wouldn’t have passed your driving test.
        A. You didn’t forget to put out your hand, you wouldn’t have passed your driving test.
        B.  You forgot to put out your hand and you failed your driving test.
        C.  You forgot to put out your hand but you passed your driving test.
        D.  You didn’t forget to put out your hand but you didn’t pass your driving test.
Type 3   This item type consists of a very short reading extract of only a few sentences (or sometimes of only one sentence). The testees are required to answer only one comprehension test item on each reading passage. Here are two examples of the use of multiple-choice items for testing reading comprehension, the first being at a fairly elementary level and the second at a more advanced level.
1.       The president was talking to a young woman in the crowd when Tim suddenly caught sight of a man standing several yards behind her. The man had something in his hand: it was a short stick.
What made Tim notice the man in the crowd?
A.      He was very close to Tim.
B.      The president was talking to him.
C.      He was standing in front of the woman.
D.     He was carrying a stick.
   2.   There were only two ways of moving along the narrow ledge: face outwards or face to the wall. I concluded that even the smallest of bottoms would push a person with his back to the wall far enough out to overbalance him and so, with arms outstretched in the shape of a cross and with chin pointed in the direction I was heading, I inched my way along.
The writer managed to cross the narrow ledge by
A.      crawling, along on his knees with his arms stretched out in front of him.
B.      moving sideways Inch by Inch with his back to the wall.
C.      working his way forward on his stomach with his face almost touching the ledge.
D.     walking slowly with his face and stomach close to the wall.
The multiple-choice test offers a useful way of testing reading comprehension, however, not all multiple-choice reading tests are necessarily good tests of reading comprehension. As was clearly indicated earlier, the extent to which a test is successful in measuring what it sets out to measure depends largely on the effectiveness of each of the items used. Indeed, certain general aspects of many reading tests may be suspect. For instance, the usual brief extract for reading comprehension concentrate too much on developing only those skills required for intensive reading, encouraging frequent regressions and a word-by-word approach to reading?
     The length of the extract should also be relate to its level of difficulty: a particularly difficult or complex passage would probably be considerably sorter than a more straightforward one. On the whole, the difficulty level of the text, however, should coincide with the level of the students’ proficiency in English, but we must remember that the reading matter used outside the test situation (e.g. simplified readers) should be selected for enjoyment and should thus be at  slightly lower level than the actual standard of the reading skills acquired. (The difficulty level of a text depends chiefly on the degree of the structural and lexical complexity if the language used.)
     How many multiple-choice items should be set on one text? Clearly, the number of items will depend on the length and complexity of the text. However, tests of reading comprehension generally contain fewer items than other skill tests. Furthermore, the testees require much more time to work through a reading comprehension tests since they first have to read the text carefully once or twice before they can begin to answer the items based on it. While as little as ten or fifteen seconds for each item can be allowed in multiple-choice tests of grammar and vocabulary, at least one or two minutes must be allowed for each item in the average reading test (if the time required to read the text is taken into account). Consequently, such tests, though long in terms of time, must of necessity be short in terms of items and, therefore, less reliable.
       The construction of items depending simply on a matching of words and phrases should be avoided. Items should test more than a superficial understanding of the text and should require the testees to digest and interpret what they have read. The following examples show how ineffective items can be if testees are simply required to match the words in the items with the words in the text.
At four o’clock on September 30th two men armed with iron bars attacked a soldier in Priory Street.
What happened at four o’clock on September 30th?
A. Two neminsi deraden with rinot babbiers tacklened a derisoldt.
Imagine that a testee did not understand much of the sentence in the text. In order to appreciate this fully, it is necessary to change the situation slightly, and the text might appear to us like this:
At four o’clock on September 30th two neminsi deraden with rinot babbiers tacklened a derisoldt.
What happened at four o’clock on September 30th?
A. Two neminsi deraden with rinot babbiers tacklened a derisoldt.
A slightly better item would be:
       What happened on afternoon at the end of September?
However, to be completely satisfactory,  it would be necessary to rewrite both the text and the item, as in the following example:
Paul was surprised when he met Sue at the party. He was under the impression she had gone away from the locality. The last time he saw her was when Jane was teaching her to drive. A few days afterwards she had suddenly become ill.
(first version)               Paul was surprised when
A.      Sue went away
B.      he met Sue at the party.
C.      Jane was teaching Sue to drive.
D.    Sue suddenly became ill.
(second version)          Paul did not expect to see Sue because
A.      he knew she was at the party.
B.      he thought she had left the district.
C.     He had seen Jane teaching her to drive.
D.    he had heard she was ill.
     There is often a temptation to concentrate too much of facts, figures and dates when constructing test items based on a factual text. Generally speaking, figures and dates are included in a text chiefly for the purpose of illustration or to show the application of a general principle behind them. E.g.:
From January to December last year, 291 people were killed and 6,248 were injured in road accident on the city’s reads. 157 of all the fatal accidents involved motorcyclists or their pillion passengers, while 95 involved pedestrians and the remaining 39 the drivers and passengers of motor vehicles.
Over half of all the people killed in road accidents last year were
A. motorcyclists and pillion passengers.
B. Pedestrians.
C. drivers of buses, cars and lories.
D. both pedestrians and motorists.
The choice of the correct option in each multiple-choice item must depend on a testee’s comprehension on the reading text rather than on general knowledge or intelligence. The following item, for example, can be answered without any knowledge of the text on which it has been based.
Memorizing is easier when the material to be learnt is
A. in a foreign language.
B. already partly known.
C. unfamiliar and not too easy.
D. of no special interest.
Care must be taken to avoid setting distractors which may be true, even though they may not have been explicitly stated by the writer. In the following test item based on a reading text about the United Nations and the dangers of war, C is the required answer; however, all four options are correct – even though not stated in so many words by the writer.
What would happen if there was a global war?
A. Nations would train men for war.
B. Lots of terrible weapons would be made.
C. The whole human race would be completely destroyed.
D. People would grow very desperate.
The correct option must be roughly the same length as the distractors. In the following test item the correct option has been modified to such a degree that it appears as the obvious answer without even necessitating any reference to the text.
The curriculum at the new college is a good one in many ways because it
A. includes many science courses.
B. offers a well-balanced programme in both the humanities and the sciences.
C. is realistic.
D. consists of useful technical subjects.
All the options must be grammatically correct: there is a tendency especially in reading comprehension to overlook the grammatical appropriateness of some of the distractors used. Option D in the following item can be ruled out immediately because it is ungrammatical.
The writer says that he had studied engineering for
A. a long time.
B. only a very short period.
C. several years.
D. never.
Double negatives are only confusing and such items as the following (based on the extract on page 120) are best avoided:
Paul did not expect to see Sue because
A. he did not know she was at the party.
B. no one knew she had left the district.
C. he hadn’t seen Jane teacing her to drive.
D. he didn’t realize she was well.
A useful device in multiple-choice tests of reading comprehension is the option ALL OF THESE or NONE OF THESE:
According to the passage, what do some people think there should be outside a modern city?
A. Buses
B. Car parks.
C. Office building.
Types of completion items for testing reading comprehension are divided into two groups for ease of treatment: Type 1 consisting of blanks for completion in the items following the text; and type 2 consisting of blanks in the text itself.
Type 1   Unless carefully constructed, this type of completion test can become merely a matching exercise in which the words and phrases required in the completion are determined after a process of matching the whole item with the appropriate part of the text. However, less emphasis is placed on the writing skills in such a test than in a test consisting of open-ended questions. The first example of this item type illustrates how a short informal letter can be used to provide the basis for completion items.
Example 1
                                                                                                   256 Weston Road,
                                                                                                   2nd Floor,
                                                                                                   Hong Kong,
                                                                                                   7th June, 1988.
Dear David,
I am very sorry that I could not meet you last night. I hope that you did not wait too long outside the New York Theatre. I had to look after my small brother until my mother returned home. She was a long time at the doctor’s and she arrived home very late. I ran all the way to the bus stop, but I had already missed the bus. I decided to get on a tram and I arrived at the New York Theatre at eight o’clock. I did not think that you would still be there because I was three-quarters of an hour late. I do hope that you  forgive me.
       Your friend,
Write one word or more in each blank.
1. Pete lives at ………………………………………………………………
2. He wrote the letter on ………………………………………………………
3. Peter could not leave home because he had to wait for …………….to return.
4. His mother had been to the ……………………………………………….
5. Peter went to the New York Theatre by ………………………………
6. He thought that David ……………………………………………….
7. The word ……………means excuse.
8. Peter had arranged to meet David at ………..seven on June …………….
Example 2   The second example gives the stimulus in the form of a theatre advertisement. It has been included here as a reminder of the importance of varying text types in a reading comprehension test and of using the type of reading material which the student may meet in places where English is used as an everyday means of communication.
Read the following advertisement and complete each sentence. Write one word or more in each space.
Monday, 8 January for 2 weeks
Charles Laurence’s popular comedy
Wednesday, 24 January to
Saturday, 27 January
Shanghai Festival Ballet
Monday, 29 January for one week
Tim Danby’s thrilling mystery

1. The SHANGHAI Festival Ballet will perform on ………….evenings.
2. ……………….will be the most amusing play.
3. If you like dancing, you should see ………………
4. The play written by …………………is very exciting.
Type 2   In this item type the testees are required to complete the blank spaces in a reading text. The blanks have been substituted for what the test writer considers are the most significant content words. Consequently, a possible weakness of such a test may result from the failure to supply adequate guidelines to the testees; the following is an example of a poor item because the framework is insufficient to guide them. The linguistic clues are thus inadequate and the testees are faced with the task of having to guess what was in the examiner’s mind.
When we (1) …..something along the (2) …………it will cause (3) ………..
     The following text illustrates how blanks should be interspersed; the testee’s degreed of success in completing the blanks depends almost entirely on his or her comprehension of the whole text.
     When we slide something along the floor, it will cause (1) ………..if something is very (2) ………, there will be a lot o friction between it and the ground. However, friction is (3) …….when something rolls instead of (4) ……… The invention of the (5) …………was really an attempt to reduce friction. Unless there is snow or ice, it is much harder to (6) ……….something on a box or sledge than in a cart. Ball-bearings are used a lot in machinery to (7) ………friction.
Example 1   In some tests certain letters of missing words are given. In these cases, the testees are generally informed that each dash in the blank signifies a letter.
The mighty Amazon f—s into the Atlantic near the Equator: its es—-y is about 170 miles wide. The w–th—is often so misty that the h—s of the river cannot be seen from a ship, even it is p-s—g quite close to them.
It is also possible to provide only the initial letter of the missing word. This item is not to be recommended for most purposes as the inclusion of letters can often create mental blocks and only confuse students if they fail to think of the exact word required.
Example 2   A variation of this type of reading comprehension may incorporate the multiple-choice technique:
     Astrology is the ancient (1) ………of telling what will (2) ………in the future by studying the (3) ………of the stars and planets. (4) …….astrologers thought that the stars and planets influenced the (5) …….. of men, they claimed they could tell (6) …………
(1) custom            business                                    magic                knowledge        art
(2) coincide          happen                         chance              come                foretell
(3) places              shapes                          times                positions           light
(4) However         Because                         Although          For                   While
(5) affairs             matters                         businesses         chances             times
(6) horoscopes     future                            advice               fortunes            luck
Example 3   The following type of item is used to most advantages when the item itself is related to the kinds of tasks the testees are required to perform in their studies or in real life. For example, testees can be provided with the dictionary definitions of a number of words. (This material is simply extracted from a good dictionary, together with information concerning pronunciation, verb patterns, parts of speech, etc., and examples of use where appropriate.) underneath dictionary extract are printed incomplete sentences, which testees are required to complete with the most appropriate word.
These two item types are particularly useful for testing the ability to understand a sequence of steps in a process or events in a narrative. While in an exercise for classroom practice the students will often be required to rewrite the jumbled sentences in their correct sequence. It is preferable for testing purposes to instruct them to write simply the numbers or letters of the jumbled sentences.
The first of these items takes the form of jumbled sentences which the students have to ‘unscramble’ and arrange in the correct order. The students are instructed to rearrange the letters of the sentences in their correct order in the boxes below.
  1. The dogs were separated from their human masters and were put into large fields.
  2. For instance, they wagged their tails, they barked and growled, and they fawned on animals which possessed food.
  3. Psychologists observing them found that they reacted towards each other in much the same way as they used to respond to people.
  4. Recently an experiment was conducted with a group of dogs to find out how much their behaviour was, in fact, simply a result of human environment.
  5. Puppies born to those dogs and kept out of contact with people showed the same bahaviour patterns: they were extremely wild and afraid of human beings.