Reading Comprehension Assessment

Updated December 23, 2017

Of the four traditional skills, I personally believe that reading assessments are the most difficult to write. It always seems easiest to stick with the tried-and-true multiple choice question. However, there are other ways to assess a students’ ability to read in their second language, and there are even ways to improve multiple-choice questions. I am thankful to M

Reading Assessment Activities 1 / 2

Unless otherwise noted, most of these ideas came from Martina Bex in this post or this post. I am constantly indebted to her website!

  • Add sentences: This idea comes from Cynthia Hitz. Insert several numbers in the text and write 3-4 possible sentences that could be inserted at that number. Students then need to choose the sentence that makes the most sense in the context. Click here for an example.
  • Captioning: Read a statement in the target language about an image and determine whether it is an accurate description or not.
  • Causation: Match events from the text with the events or situations that caused them.
  • Choose the fake: Read several sets of three statements (two true and one false) and choose the statement that is inaccurate.
  • Correct order: Students read a series of statements in the target language and put them in a logical order (i.e. chronological).
  • Emotions: Read an event from a text and identify a character’s most likely emotion.
  • Explicit information: Students must recall who, what, where, when, how, and why questions from the text.
  • Fact or opinion: Identify whether a statement about the reading is a fact or an opinion. For this to work, make sure that you’ve explicitly taught this reading skill.
  • Find a conclusion: Read a passage from the text and determine which of several conclusions is the most logical (or vice versa).
  • First or second: Read pairs of statements in the TL and identify which happened first (could be done as a partner quiz for a formative assessment).
  • Identify speaker: Read statements in the TL and identify who said or would have said each one. Click here a more detailed description.
  • Illustrate: Read several statements in the target language and illustrate them.
  • Image selection: Read several statements in the target language and determine which statement best describes each image in a series.
  • Missing words: Read a text in the TL with omitted words and write the words that would best complete the passage. Make it easier by giving students a word bank or a fixed number of words to choose from. Click here for an example.
  • Paraphrase: Read a passage and identify which statement is the best paraphrase.
  • Replace sentences: This idea is from Cynthia Hitz. Pull some sentences from the text and insert numbers in their place. Then, move the sentences to the bottom of the paper. For the assessment, students must write the number on the line of the sentence that fits in that part of the text. Click here for an example.
  • Split sentences: Match the first and second halves of statements about a text.
  • Summarize: Read a short selection in the target language and write down a concise summary in English.
  • Theme: Students must identify the theme of the text.
  • Time frame: Identify whether an event happened in the past, present, or future. This isn’t a full assessment of comprehension, but it might be good information anyway.
  • Translate: Students read several statements in the target language and write down their translation in English (or the students’ native language). Translate a passage or select which of several options is the best translation of a passage.
  • True / False: Students determine whether a statement about the reading is true or false (or not mentioned in the text).
  • Word identification: Search the target text for the L2 equivalent of a list of L1 words. Identify the meaning of a specific word from a passage in the text.

Making Better Reading Assessments

  • Ask questions in the L1 3: If the questions are written in the L2, students are often able to answer the questions correctly by scanning the text for key words in the question instead of genuinely comprehending.
  • Include authentic tasks: Do our reading assessments align with our use of texts in real life? Does it matter if they do? This is a question that people will answer differently. However, Gianfranco Conti has some great food for though in the quote below:
Real-life reading tasks involve (i) comprehending the main points of  text – not necessarily as directed by the questions formulated by the teacher/textbook; (ii) finding information one needs for the accomplishment of a task, to fill gaps in their knowledge or (iii) simply reading to learn new things for the sake of personal enrichment. Such tasks are more likely to motivate foreign language learners than comprehension for comprehension’s sake. Not to mention the negative consequences for the motivation to read when learners who are less good at making intelligent guesses or inferring details consistently score poorly (Gianfranco Conti).
  • Higher-order thinking: Don’t be content with the standard surface-level comprehension questions about a text. While critical thinking questions will be more time-consuming to write, they will give you a different understanding of students’ comprehension, and you will be able to impress your administrators.
  • Appropriate leveling: Do not overestimate the students’ reading abilities in their native language. As Gianfranco Conti said, “Research clearly indicates that for reading strategy instruction to be most effective, reading strategies need to be taught explicitly – which, in most cases, in my experience, doesn’t happen.”


  1. Martina Bex, Reading Activity or Reading Assessment? (2014).
  2. Martina Bex, End-of-term Assessments (2016).
  3. Keith Toda, In Which Language Should I Assess Reading Comprehension? (2016).

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