Comprehension in a Scenario-Based Assessment: Domain and Topic-Specific Background Knowledge

Kathryn S. McCarthy, Tricia A. Guerrero, Kevin M. Kent, Laura K. Allen, Danielle McNamara, Szu Fu Chao, Jonathan Steinberg, Tenaha O’Reilly, John Sabatini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background knowledge is a strong predictor of reading comprehension, yet little is known about how different types of background knowledge affect comprehension. The study investigated the impacts of both domain and topic-specific background knowledge on students’ ability to comprehend and learn from science texts. High school students (n = 3,650) completed two background knowledge assessments, a pretest, comprehension tasks, and a posttest, in the context of the Global, Integrated, Scenario-based Assessment on ecosystems. Linear mixed-effects models revealed positive effects of background knowledge on comprehension and learning as well as an interactive effect of domain and topic-specific knowledge, such that readers with high domain knowledge but low topic-specific knowledge improved most from pretest to posttest. We discuss the potential implications of these findings for educational assessments and interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)510-524
Number of pages15
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Aug 18 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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