Two plus two still makes four.

Reading Comprehension Question Types for English Language Learners

Robert Mcbain
An article for English language teachers who need to compose effective reading comprehension questions for learners

While compiling reading comprehension questions seems pretty straightforward, they do need to be authentic and provide an accurate evaluation of what they are supposed to test. For example, multiple-choice questions provide weak feedback about whether students comprehend the text to which they refer. A more authentic task might be to use literal comprehension questions that require students to write their answers, demonstrating an understanding of the straightforward meaning of the text.

The basics of questioning

One of the most important things is that students must always have to read the text and find the answer within it; so that the questions test their reading comprehension, not memory skills. All the questions should use unambiguous language, avoiding vague, trick or negative wording (for example, a truthful clause followed by a false one). Furthermore, if a question requires an explanation or a discussion, students need specific instructions to do it. Don’t forget that the main idea of testing reading comprehension is to create the kinds of questions where students have to explain in writing what it is they understand, which at the same time builds cognitive skills of automatically using correct word forms and grammar. Students should also have rehearsed the question types and the vocabulary in them in class before the test. Lastly, some students may be reluctant to criticize or disagree with some questions for cultural reasons.

Factual specific or closed questions 

These are excellent in helping students understand the literal meaning of the text, especially in making basic evaluations, personal responses, predictions and follow-ups to other questions forms, such as yes/no and alternative styles. These types are characterized by wh-question words that have simple, concrete, straightforward answers based on obvious facts in the text. They are usually at the lowest level of thinking processes, and their answers are frequently either right or wrong. However, some are easier to answer than others. Where, what, who, when, whose and which questions are more straightforward and therefore easier to answer than why or how questions because the latter two need deeper explanations.

Often questions beginning with wh are of the short answer type, which requires students to focus on a narrow and precise response. Further to this, it’s often a good idea to employ different methods for the responses, either requiring a certain number of words or allowing students to use their own words but controlling the length of the line or box used for the answer.


Instructions: Use only 4 to 8 words for your answer to number 1.
What is the location of the shop? ___________________________________ 

Instructions: Write your answer below and don’t write past the line.
What was the color of the car? ________________________

Relate style questions

In this kind of question, students need to explain the relationship between two or more concepts, objects or even people in the text.


  1.   Explain how the two shops are similar.
  2.   Explain how the two boys are the same.

Multiple-part questions 

As the name suggests, multiple-part questions require students to write a multiple-part answer, usually in 2 or 3 parts. For this type, students need to have practice joining clauses together using the appropriate conjunction.

Questions related to describing things

Any question that requires students to describe things also allows them to analyze the text and look for specific facts and to use their opinion. Included in this is describing objects, information, dates, times when something happened, locations, events, or directions. For this type, it’s always best to rehearse the three forms of adjectives namely: positive, comparative and superlative.

Recalling style questions

Recalling the main idea in a sentence, paragraph, or even whole passages is a common question type. This type of question could ask students to confirm facts, ideas, themes, a character, events, actions, time details, reasons or the moral of an individual paragraph or the entire story.

Inferring style questions 

Inference questions test a student’s abilities to interpret information that is not explicitly stated in the text and combine literal understanding with knowledge, intuition and powers of deduction. These types of questions usually revolve around the idea of prediction, and the possibility of something happening.


  • Prediction type responses.
  • What do you think might have happened?
  • Suggesting additional details to a piece of text.
  • Questions relating to possible locations of where the story might have taken place.
  • Questions that relate to who else could be involved in a particular part of the text.

Yes/no & multiple-choice questions

These are common question types, but they don’t allow students to demonstrate their reading comprehension since the correct answer can often be guessed. To avoid this, students should complete a follow-up question to ensure that they do understand and have provided an authentic response.

Example: 1. Which city is he describing in line 4? Rome / Paris / Berlin
Follow up question: What information does the author state that tells you this?

Alternative style questions are similar, but again, they need explaining.

Example: 1. Does the story focus on garden plants or farm crops? 
Follow up question: Explain your answer.

Dichotomous questions are generally a “yes or no” close-ended question used for basic validation.

Example: 1. Does the garage service all kinds of vehicles? yes/no?
Follow up question: Explain below, how the passage tells us this. 

Rank order and sequencing questions

For this type of question, the answers require the test taker to write them in a specific order or sequence of events. To do this, they must read the passage in its entirety to select or figure out their particular order. Sometimes events that appeared in the first paragraph may not have happened first.

Written by Robert Mcbain for EnglishClub
Dr Robert Mcbain is a secondary headteacher. He also teaches EFL social studies and also designs instructional materials for Content Language Integrated Learning. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

One comment

  • Pat Robinson says:

    This article is interesting and extremely helpful. Even though I already use most of the ideas, this article helps me to give more meaningful exercises to my students and most importantly, it explains what to teach before assigning student exercises. I am not a professional educator but am a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL). Therefore, I am not trained as a educator but I am very good with speaking English and explaining many of its rules, but I do not know the terms such as style questions and had not thought of rank order and sequencing exercises. Thank you so much for providing this article.

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