How do I assess Extensive Reading?

Teachers often feel they should check learners’ understanding through tests and quizzes. In Extensive Reading, as long as learners are reading a book at their level there is then no need to test them. Why? because if they should be reading things they already have a high level of comprehension with.  Extensive Reading is not about testing. It is about helping learners to build their reading speed and fluency – and become more confident readers in English.

However, schools often need numerical data to assign to grades. As each student will be reading self-selected books, it’s hard to have a test for each person each week. A short cut to this is the ER Moodle which is an online system whereby students take online tests with test data going to the teacher..

Many teachers use several informal ways to assess their learners’ Extensive Reading. This section includes a few common ideas.

1. Book reports and summaries

Learners can write a short book report and summaries. These can be general, such as a short summary of the book, or more specific, such as comments on one character in the book. The complexity of the report depends upon the level of the learner.

They are handed in to the teacher and graded, and/or used as aids for spoken reports. The time spent writing a book report or summary should be no more than 15 minutes per week. Some ideas for book reports on the worksheets page. Two example photocopiable book reports are also on the worksheets page.

2. Giving grades

Some teachers need to find ways to give grades for reading. Here are a few ways to do this.

  • Assign learners a number of pages or books to read per term and then grade them on what they have achieved. For example, learners who read over 800 pages get an A; those who read over 500 get a B, and so on.
  • Grade learners’ reading reports, using A, B, C and so on.
  • Grade learners on the number of books they’ve read over a period of time.
  • Grade learners on how many reading levels they increase over a period of time.

Put a large reading chart on the classroom or library wall for students to record the books they read over a period of time. This has each student’s name down the left side. Across the page leave spaces for students to fill in the name of books they read. Students fill in the chart as they finish books. You may wish to have different charts for the number of pages read, number of books read or the number of reading reports with an A. At the end of the term, you may wish to offer some kind of prize for certain achievements, such as most books read.

Click to download the PDF.

3. Measuring reading speed

You can measure learners’ reading speed at the beginning of the term, and then again at the end. 

4. Wall charts / Graded Reader Book Review Posters

Some teachers ask their learners to make wall charts or presentations explaining their books. Here are some examples. Half the students can then stand by their posters spread out around the room and explain their book with the other half walk around and listen making notes. Then the two groups switch. The best posters can be used to decorate the library.

5. Informal monitoring

One of the most effective ways to check students’ understanding is to have a silent reading time. This can be once a week, even if for just a few minutes. It gives the teacher a chance to walk around the class watching students as they read silently, to assess if they enjoy the story, if it is too easy, or too difficult. The teacher can also ask what types of readers students like to read, and make recommendations.

Informal ‘body language’ tests

To get a rough idea of whether learners understand, ask yourself:

  • Do they look like they understand? Or look bored or disinterested?
  • Do they smile when they read funny parts of the story, or look a little apprehensive in exciting moments?
  • Are they sitting in a way to enjoy the book, or trying to hide that they are sleeping?
  • Do they turn pages often? Do they seem to be reading slowly (say, by moving their finger along the page)?
  • Do they have to re-read parts of their readers? Do they use their dictionary a lot?

6. Informal comprehension checks for during or after reading a book

When asked, sometimes students try to please the teacher by saying they understand when they don’t. At these times the teacher can ask questions (even in the learner’s L1). Here are a few examples.

  • Can they re-tell the story with little trouble in their own language?
  • Can they react to the story freely by saying what they liked or disliked?
  • Ask ‘What is it about?’ ‘Who are the main characters?’ ‘What’s happening on this page?’
  • Ask how it ended.  Was it a sad or happy ending? Why?
  • Ask which characters they liked best and why.

If a learner can’t answer questions like these the book is too difficult or they haven’t been reading it.  You can just suggest they find something easier or more interesting next time. But keep a closer eye on them in case they need support.

7. Assessing their library

As learners read more books they can identify which books appear to be either harder or easier than other books at the same level; which are interesting to them; and so on. Ask learners to tell you and then you can buy new books accordingly.

8. Get students to take the online Extensive Reading Foundation placement test

This test is designed to help place students at the right level for extensive reading using graded readers. Students should ‘click here’ on this page and enter their name, institution etc and a class code. Note that this test is not designed to place students exactly, and should NOT be used as a pre-post test in ER research as this is not a proficiency test and has not been validated sufficiently.


More ideas

Richard Byrne’s ideas

ER Placement tests

Cambridge placement test

Penguin level test

Macmillan Level Test