Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Plakans, Lia

First Committee Member

Everson, Michael

Second Committee Member

Schrier, Leslie

Third Committee Member

Wesely, Pamela

Fourth Committee Member

Ansley, Timothy


The main purpose of this study was to compare the strategies used by Chinese- speaking students when confronted with familiar versus unfamiliar topics in a multiple-choice format reading comprehension test. The focus was on describing what students do when they are taking reading comprehension tests by asking students to verbalize their thoughts. The strategies were further compared with participants' level of familiarity with different reading topics and their reading scores. Twenty Chinese-speaking participants at the University of Iowa performed three tasks: a topical knowledge vocabulary assessment that served as an indicator of each participant's topical knowledge about the four selected content areas in this study (law, business, language teaching, and engineering); two Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) internet-based test (iBT) practice reading comprehension passages, one with a familiar topic and the other with an unfamiliar topic, and both with retrospective think-aloud protocols; and an interview related to participants' test-taking strategies.

Two stages of analysis, qualitative and quantitative, were undertaken in this study. For the qualitative analysis, all verbal reports provided by participants in the think-aloud protocols and the interviews were recorded and transcribed. Six categories of strategies emerged: general approaches to reading the passages, identification of important information by the discourse structure of the passages, vocabulary/sentence-in-context approaches, multiple-choice test-management strategies, test-wiseness, and background knowledge. For the quantitative analysis, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures was completed to determine if there were significant differences based on the frequency of strategy use and level of topic familiarity. The results showed that the types of test-taking strategies adopted by Chinese-speaking graduate students remained similar when they read passages with familiar versus unfamiliar topics. However, participants all reported feeling more relief and more confidence when reading passages related to their background knowledge. The second ANOVA employed a split-plot statistical design to examine whether there were significant differences based on participants' strategy use and their reading scores as measured by the iBT reading comprehension tests. High scorers employed strategies in categories one, two, three, and four significantly more frequently than low scorers. However, low scorers adopted significantly more strategies in category five than high scorers. In category six, high and low scorers seemed to use a similar number of strategies. Findings that emerged from the two perspectives are discussed; implications related to test-taking and reading pedagogy are provided in the conclusion.


multiple-choice test, reading, strategies, test score, topic familiarity, validity


viii, 136 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 114-121).


Copyright 2011 Jia-Ying Lee