How to Assess Reading Skills

Reading is when someone looks into a written text and starts to absorb the information from the written linguistic message. 

These are the three main genres of reading

  • Academic reading (textbooks, essays, papers
  • Job-related reading (messages, letters, reports, financial documents)
  • Personal reading (Newspaper, magazines, e-mails , greeting cards)

In this post you will find information that will help you assess your learners in your reading lessons.

How to Assess Reading

If you want to learn how to assess reading skills, you should start by learning the existing types of reading.

We can talk about four types of reading:

  • Perceptive Reading
  • Selective Reading
  • Interactive Reading
  • Extensive Reading

Perceptive Reading

Perceptive reading tasks involve attending to the components of larger stretches of discourse: letters, words, punctuation, and other graphemic symbols.  Bottom-up processing is implied.

At the beginning level of reading a second language, the fundamental tasks include recognition of:

  • alphabetic symbols
  • capitalized and lowercase letters
  • punctuation
  • words
  • grapheme-phoneme correspondences.

They are referred to as “literacy” tasks, implying that the learner is in the early stages of becoming ‘literate’. Items include

  1. Reading aloud
  2. Written response
  3. Multiple-Choice

Selective Reading

a selective task is to ascertain one’s reading recognition of lexical, grammatical, or discourse features of language within a very short stretch of language. Items such as picture-cued tasks, matching, true/false, multiple-choice, etc.

Expected answers include sentences, brief paragraphs, simple charts and graphs, and brief responses as well.

A combination of bottom-up and top-down processing may be both used to assess lexical and grammatical aspects of reading ability. Items include:

  • Multiple-Choice (form-focused criteria)
  • Matching Tasks
  • Editing tasks
  • Picture-cued tasks
  • Gap-filling tasks

Interactive Reading

Reading is a process of negotiating meaning; the reader brings to the text a set of schemata for understanding it, and intake is the product of that interaction.

The focus of an interactive task is to identify relevant features (lexical, symbolic, grammatical, and discourse) within texts of moderately short length with the objective of retaining the information that is processed.

Top-down processing is typical of such tasks with occasional use of bottom-up skills.Tasks at this level, like selective tasks, have a combination of form-focused and meaning-focused objectives but with more emphasis on meaning.

Texts are a little longer, from a paragraph to as many as a page or so in case of ordinary prose. Charts, graphs, and other graphics may be somewhat complex in their format.

Tasks include: cloze tasks, multiple choices for reading comprehension, short-answer questions, editing tasks, scanning, ordering tasks, non-verbal tasks for information transfer such as charts, maps, graphs, and diagrams.

Extensive Reading

extensive reading applies to texts of more than one page up to and including professional articles, essays, technical reports, short stories, and books.

Global understanding is the goal for assessment. Top-down processing is assumed for most extensive tasks.

Skimming tasks are to get the main ideas; summarizing (a synopsis or overview of the text) and responding (personal opinion on the test as a whole). Note-taking and outlining are both used frequently for the higher-ordered learning. 

But tasks like short-answers, editing, scanning, ordering, and information transfer tasks can also be used to assess extensive reading.

Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English