Hints within Paragraph Select Questions


When reading the article, which of the following did you observe? A, B, C or D? When students take quizzes on Newsela, their comprehension of the article goes beyond multiple choice.

Instead, Newsela offers lots of different question types to engage students and assess their understanding. These questions range from text-based multiple choice questions to inferences in paragraph select questions. This week, we decided to look at how well students do on our paragraph select questions.

These questions ask students to highlight the answer from the body of the article itself. In order to do so, students must re-read sections of the text. For example, question 2 in this article tells students that the answer paragraph lies in the section called “Like A House On Fire.” Students are still able to select a paragraph in any section of the article, but we have clarified that they should search within the section “Like A House On Fire.”

The following diagram illustrates how paragraph select questions are generally set up. The question notes that the answer can be found in the “Like A House On Fire” section, but students can still select a paragraph from any section.

We mention the article section so that students are thinking critically but are not faced with a scavenger hunt of 20+ possible answers on a long story.

Still, we found that in 450,000 paragraph select items, students chose a paragraph outside of the specified section.

Looking Closer at Paragraph Select Questions

We believe paragraph select questions are important because  they require students to justify their answer using the text itself. Since most paragraph select questions contain a hint (the section to reference), these questions require students to closely read the text to arrive at an answer.  They also assess students' ability to comprehend and summarize key details of the text. This skill is especially critical for the following Common Core Anchor Standards:

  • CCSS R.I. Anchor 1: What the Text Says
  • CCSS R.I. Anchor 2: Central Idea
  • CCSS R.I. Anchor 3: People, Events, and Ideas
  • CCSS R.I. Anchor 4: Word Meaning and Choice

So after seeing that in over 450,000 items, students did not select a paragraph within the specified section, we wanted to dig deeper.  We wanted to know whether the same students make this mistake and whether the amount of time students spend on a quiz affects whether they select the answer outside of the mentioned section.

An [Un]Common Pattern

As students continue to take quizzes containing paragraph select questions, they tend to not repeat the same mistake of choosing a paragraph from the wrong section. They learn to read the text of the quiz item just as closely as they read the article itself. Often they even self-correct after getting just one paragraph select question wrong. The chart below shows that only 5 percent of students who have selected wrong answers have selected a paragraph from a wrong section five or more times.

Time Spent

Of the students who did not select a paragraph within the designated section, 15 percent spent less than 90 seconds on the article. Moreover, we found that for students who selected a paragraph from the wrong section, on average, they spent 10-15 seconds less on the paragraph select question, compared to other questions in the quiz.

Teachers, how are you helping your students with paragraph select questions? Do you remind your students to look for context clues? Tweet us @Newsela, we love hearing what you’re doing in the classroom.

Let’s Talk

Please provide your information below, and a member of our team will call you right back. Available during the business hours of 8am–7pm ET