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Posted 26th August, 2017 by Sue Partridge

Could not retrieve telephone-number, Could not retrieve telephone-number,

What can the WRIT vocabulary subtest tell us about reading ability?

by Alison Earey

The Vocabulary subtest depends upon the participants’ understanding and production of oral language.  Therefore, the Vocabulary subtest is inappropriate for individuals unfamiliar with English.

Vocabulary tests are among the best predictors and commonly demonstrate the highest correlation with total IQ at any subtest within a given ability battery (WRIT manual, p60).

STEC Guidelines (SASC 2005) tell us that WRIT is a measure of underlying ability.

So,the question re-phrased is –  What does being able to define words orally tell us about reading ability?

The Vocabulary subtest tells us whether a person knows what word means or not. It doesn’t tell us whether they have learned the word from reading or from conversation.

In my experience, people that I assessed who are more confident readers gain higher marks in this subtest. However, it is also true that where younger people have been to higher academically achieving schools, have been well supported at home, have had a wide experience of life and come from a background where a wide range of vocabulary is used are likely to score well in the subtest.

Therefore, it appears that younger (under 19) participants, who have been well supported, are likely to do well in the subtest even if their reading is not strong.

Metsala et al. (1998) found that “Reading ability was found to predict facility at learning the novel phonological sequences, while intelligence was the only factor which accounted for performance level for the semantic content of the words. No between-group differences were found in long-term retention or in the ability to provide definitions for the newly learned words. The findings suggest that the vocabulary deficits of less-skilled readers stem, at least in part, from difficulty establishing accurate phonological representations for new words.”

Krashen  (1989) says we acquire vocabulary and spelling by reading. He argues that the best way of developing vocabulary is by spelling – note that he doesn’t say the only way!


Krashen, S. (1989) We Acquire Vocabulary and Spelling by Reading: Additional Evidence for the Input Hypothesis, The Modern Language Journal, Volume 73, Issue 4, Pages 440-464

Metsala, Jamie L. (Ed); Ehri, Linnea C. (Ed). (1998). Word recognition in beginning literacy, (pp. 89-120). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers

SASC (20005) SpLD Working Group 2005/DfES Guidelines

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