'Teaching reading begins with a deep understanding about what makes a text complex.'[1] Teachers need to be able to recognise and analyse the various aspects of complexity in a text, know which parts of the text to scaffold and how to do this, in order to help their readers improve their comprehension skills.

Texts have various aspects of complexity. Some key considerations are:

  • Ideas or knowledge
  • Structure
  • Vocabulary
  • Sentence complexity
  • Levels of meaning or subtlety

Familiarity is critical in determining complexity: the less familiar any aspect of the text, the more complex it is likely to be for that reader. Text complexity needs to be determined in the context of who the reader is and what they know. PAT units (a text and related questions) below a student's scale score give some examples the aspects of texts that this student can mainly understand.  

Texts are rarely uniformly simple or uniformly complex. Most texts are a mix of simpler and more complex aspects. PAT units in the same band as the student's scale score illustrate a variety of texts with similar overall difficulty but different aspects of complexity.

Easy questions tend to indicate simpler aspects of a text. Harder questions in the same unit indicate more complex aspects of the text. Examining the relative difficulty of questions in a unit and reading the annotations helps teachers to identify which aspects are more or less complex in each text.

Understanding what is likely to be complex in different texts is critical to effective teaching of reading comprehension.

[1] Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, (2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark: International Reading Association, 16.