Role of Background Knowledge in Iranian EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension Test Performance

Document Type: Original Article

Authors

English Department, Shahrekord University, Iran.

Abstract

As far as reading comprehension is concerned, background knowledge bears significance for English as a foreign language (EFL) learners who take high-stake tests such as M.A. University Entrance Examination. The reading part of this test can pose a challenge for Iranian EFL test takers, some of whom may have enough background knowledge to enhance their performance on the reading comprehension test, which may question the validity of the test. To fill the gap in the related literature, this study examined the effect of EFL test takers’ background knowledge on their performance on the reading part of English M.A. University Entrance Examination. To this end, 58 undergraduate students of English, aged 20-25, at Shahrekord University participated in the study. First, Topic Familiarity Ranking Measure and Topic Familiarity Rating Measure were employed to measure the participants’ background knowledge. Then, the participants were asked to answer the reading comprehension items of 4 English M.A. University Entrance Examinations. The results of correlational procedures indicated that background knowledge had a positive correlation with reading comprehension performance for two passages, indicating that some test items were a little biased in favor of some test takers with relevant background knowledge. However, the results from multiple regression analysis revealed no statistically significant contribution of the test takers’ background knowledge to their reading comprehension performance. The findings imply no serious threat to validity of the test from the construct-irrelevant variance due to the test takers’ background knowledge, and offer implications for high-stake test developers in Iran.

Keywords