Author: Kwok, Ting Fung
Title: An investigation into the lexical demand of a public English reading examination in Hong Kong
Advisors: Morrison, Bruce (ENGL)
Lin, Linda (ENGL)
Jenks, Christopher (ENGL)
Degree: DALS
Year: 2023
Subject: English language -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- China -- Hong Kong
Education, Secondary -- China -- Hong Kong -- Examinations
Vocabulary -- Study and teaching (Secondary) -- China -- Hong Kong
Reading comprehension -- Examinations
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Faculty of Humanities
Pages: xvii, 284 pages : color illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Receptive vocabulary knowledge has been identified as one determinant of reading performance, which explains why vocabulary sometimes serves as a proxy for measuring the difficulty level of a reading assessment. Since the introduction of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) English language examination in 2012, what vocabulary is tested in its reading paper has been considered students’ common worry. While teachers question what vocabulary they should teach to prepare students for the examination, students have difficulty judging which elective part of the examination paper they should choose. Whether secondary schools help students acquire an adequate vocabulary to cope with the examination effectively is questionable because the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority has never specified the vocabulary knowledge required to understand the paper.
This corpus study profiles the vocabulary used in the design of the examination. The results can help to guide assessment setters in judging the lexical demand of their papers and to inform teachers and curriculum writers of what vocabulary size might be a realistic goal for students in preparation for this examination. Specifically, the study aims to examine the level of lexical demand of the HKDSE English reading examination with reference to relevant assessment theory. It focuses on three specific questions regarding the following:
• lexical demand presented by the reading passages in relation to the increasing level of difficulty of the paper as students move from the easier to the more difficult sections;
• lexical demand of the passages in relation to that of the questions; and
• size of receptive vocabulary needed to successfully attempt the paper.
A corpus was developed using the passage set and the question-answer book of all three sections of the HKDSE reading examination papers from 2012 to 2020. A lexical frequency profile was generated for each passage set and each question-answer book based on Nation’s BNC/COCA word list, categorising the vocabulary according to the frequency bands delineated by BNC/COCA from the highest-frequency first 1,000 word families to the lowest. Against each lexical frequency profile, two theoretical comprehension thresholds were benchmarked to compare the lexical demand across the papers by measuring the vocabulary knowledge required to understand 95% and 98% of the words in the assessment materials.
The study revealed that assessment designers’ decisions about the lexical demand of the paper did not fully align with assessment theory. For example, the question-answer book’s lexical demand was not found to be lower than that of the passage set in all sections of the paper. More importantly, no clear progression could be seen in the lexical demand of the passage set in the three sections of the paper. The findings also indicate that students, on average, need to know 7,000 word families to understand the whole paper’s vocabulary adequately.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: restricted access

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