Understanding the influence of text complexity and question type on reading outcomes

Mercedes Spencer, Allison F. Gilmour, Amanda C. Miller, Angela M. Emerson, Neena M. Saha, Laurie E. Cutting*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


In the current study, we examined how student characteristics and cognitive skills, differing levels of text complexity (cohesion, decoding, vocabulary, and syntax), and reading comprehension question types (literal, inferential, critical analysis, and reading strategy) affected different types of reading outcomes (multiple-choice reading comprehension questions, free recall, and oral reading fluency) in a sample of 181 native English-speaking adolescents (9 to 14.83 years). Results from item response theory one-parameter models and multilevel models suggested that different cognitive skills predicted performance across the three reading outcomes. After controlling for student characteristics and cognitive skills, text complexity negatively impacted reading outcomes, particularly oral reading fluency and free recall. Critical analysis and inferential questions emerged as the most difficult types of comprehension questions. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-637
Number of pages35
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019


  • Assessment
  • Item response theory
  • Multilevel models
  • Oral reading fluency
  • Reading comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Education
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Linguistics and Language


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