Improving advanced reading comprehension in a foreign language: summaries vs. short‐answer questions

Marsha Bensoussan, Isabelle Kreindler

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Summarizing appears to be an activity well suited to sensitizing advanced foreign language readers to the inner workings of a text and weaning them away from word‐to‐word decoding. Indeed, recent research has emphasized the importance of summarizing as an aid to reading comprehension (Cohen, 1987; Bernhardt, 1986; Brown et al., 1981). We were interested in using summary writing as a tool in promoting reading comprehension and hypothesized that students who gained practice in extracting the main points of a text would become more effective readers. The main purpose of the study was to determine whether the comprehension of students who were trained to summarize improved more than that of students who responded to short‐answer questions. The researchers, who teach EFL (English as a foreign language) at Haifa University, taught 6 classes totalling 179 students. Three classes summarized 10 academic texts of general interest, while the other three classes answered short‐answer questions on the same texts. At the same time we collected information on the students’ background in order to identify possible non‐linguistic factors that may affect reading comprehension. Since the reading comprehension of all the classes improved significantly, it was not possible to say that either summarizing or the answering of questions was a major cause of this improvement. However, results suggest that writing summaries helped students read more efficiently. Results of MANOVA pointed to the conjoint effects of three factors: task (summary vs. short‐answer questions), gender (male vs. female), and native language (Hebrew vs. Arabic). Perhaps the most interesting finding is that classroom discussion in which students negotiated the scoring key of both summaries and responses to short‐answer questions (after handing in assignments) proved to be extremely valuable. This negotiation motivated students to become intensely involved with the text and more critical of their own responses.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)55-68
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Research in Reading
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 1990

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Psychology (miscellaneous)


    Dive into the research topics of 'Improving advanced reading comprehension in a foreign language: summaries vs. short‐answer questions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this