Type Paper
License CC BY 4.0

Combining technology and IRT testing to build student knowledge of high-frequency vocabulary


This article describes a suite of free software programs for cell phones and PCs that have been created to efficiently develop ESL and EFL learner’s knowledge of high-frequency vocabulary. Until now, this level of efficiency has not been possible due to the variable nature of vocabulary knowledge within a class of students and the lack of diagnostic tools for identifying individual students’ known and unknown vocabulary. The programs are capable of accurately and efficiently assessing the learner’s English lexical size, identifying which specific high-frequency words still need to be taught, and then teaching these important words via a time-intervalled flashcard system and learning games focused on developing automaticity of word knowledge. Although there have been several tests available for making estimates of a learner’s vocabulary profile such as Nation’s Vocabulary Levels Test (1990) and Meara’s Yes/No test (1992), there has been no attempts to identify the specific words a learner knows. Through the application of Item Response Theory to test item responses, we have been able to assign perceived word difficulties to a list of the most common words in English. A computer adaptive test drawing from an item bank of these words quickly and accurately assesses the number of English words known by learners, as well as determines which specific words are known and unknown.


Browne, C., & Culligan, B. (2008). Combining technology and IRT testing to build student knowledge of high-frequency vocabulary. The JALT CALL Journal, 4(2), 3-16. https://doi.org/10.29140/jaltcall.v4n2.59