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A Rasch Analysis of Grammatical Difficulty : What Influences Item Difficulty?

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Abstract

This study investigated the difficulty order of 38 grammar structures obtained from an analysis of multiple-choice items using a Rasch analysis. The participants were 872 Japanese university students, whose TOEIC scores ranged from 200 to 875. The difficulty order of the 38 structures was displayed according to their Rasch difficulty estimates. This study also demonstrated the difficulty of writing items testing the knowledge of the same grammar point that show similar Rasch difficulty estimates. Even though the vocabulary and the sentence positions were carefully controlled and the two items looked parallel to teachers, they often displayed very different difficulty estimates. A questionnaire was administered concerning such items; and the students' responses suggested that they seemed to look at the items differently than teachers and what they notice and how they interpret what they notice strongly influences item difficulty. Teachers or testwriters should be aware that it is difficult to write items that produce similar difficulty estimates and their own intuition or experience might not be the best guide for writing effective grammar test items.

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