Background knowledge is a strong predictor of reading comprehension, yet little is known about how different types of background knowledge affect comprehension. The study investigated the impacts of both domain and topic-specific background knowledge on students’ ability to comprehend and learn from science texts. High school students (n = 3,650) completed two background knowledge assessments, a pretest, comprehension tasks, and a posttest, in the context of the Global, Integrated, Scenario-based Assessment on ecosystems. Linear mixed-effects models revealed positive effects of background knowledge on comprehension and learning as well as an interactive effect of domain and topic-specific knowledge, such that readers with high domain knowledge but low topic-specific knowledge improved most from pretest to posttest. We discuss the potential implications of these findings for educational assessments and interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalDiscourse Processes
Publication statusAccepted/In press - May 3 2018


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this

McCarthy, K. S., Guerrero, T. A., Kent, K. M., Allen, L. K., McNamara, D., Chao, S. F., ... Sabatini, J. (Accepted/In press). Comprehension in a Scenario-Based Assessment: Domain and Topic-Specific Background Knowledge. Discourse Processes, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163853X.2018.1460159