The Relative Difficulty and Significance of Reading Skills
The importance of reading in English as a foreign language has resulted in numerous studies on the construct of reading and the nature of its underlying skills. This study investigated the possibility of any hierarchical relationship among a set of hypothesized reading comprehension (RC) subskills measured by IELTS in terms of two important criteria of relative difficulty and significance. Furthermore, it examined the relationship between the level of difficulty and significance of the subskills. To this end, five reading subskills that are most frequently referred to in the literature were selected and presented to six expert judges in order to assign them to IELTS reading items. The results showed considerable agreement among judges on matching test items with the subskills. Then, the selected items were administered to 180 Iranian English majors. Analysis of data, using repeated measure ANOVA, showed significant differences among mean scores on four, out of five, reading subskills in terms of difficulty; therefore, a hierarchy of difficulty was identified. In addition, using structural equation modeling, contribution of each of the five subskills to the construct of reading ability turned out to be significant indicating a hierarchy of relative contribution to overall RC ability among the specified subskills. However, Spearman rank order correlation showed no significant relationship between difficulty level and relative contribution to the totality of RC. The findings have implications for test construction as well as teaching and material development.
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