Readers’ cognitive processes during IELTS reading tests: evidence from eye tracking

Bax, Stephen (2013). Readers’ cognitive processes during IELTS reading tests: evidence from eye tracking. British Council ELT Reports 13-06; British Council, ELT Research Papers 13-06.



The research described in this report investigates readers' mental processes as they complete onscreen IELTS (International English Language Testing System) reading test items. It employs up-to-date eye tracking technology to research readers' eye movements and aims, among other things, to contribute to an understanding of the cognitive validity of reading test items (Glaser. 1991; Field forthcoming).

Participants were a group of Malaysian undergraduates (n=71) taking an onscreen test consisting of two IELTS reading passages with a total of 11 test items. The eye movements of a random sample of these participants (n=38) were tracked. Questionnaire and stimulated recall interview data were also collected, and were important in order to interpret and explain the eye tracking data.

Findings demonstrated significant differences between successful and unsuccessful test-takers on a number of dimensions, including their ability to read expeditiously (Khalifa and Weir. 2009). and their focus on particular aspects of the test items and the reading texts. This demonstrates the potential of eye tracking, in combination with post- hoc interview and questionnaire data, to offer new insights into the cognitive processes of successful and unsuccessful candidates in a reading test. It also gives unprecedented insights into the cognitive processing of successful and unsuccessful readers doing language tests.

As a consequence, the findings should be of value to teachers and learners, and also to examination boards seeking to validate and prepare reading tests, as well as psycholinguists and others interested in the cognitive processes of readers.

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