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J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2008 Nov;30(8):892-902. doi: 10.1080/13803390701861384. Epub 2008 Mar 14.

Measuring vocabulary by free expression and recognition tasks: Implications for assessing children, adolescents, and young adults.

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  • 1Neuropsychology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.


Vocabulary tests are commonly used for assessing verbal ability. Most vocabulary tests employ the free expressive format that taps both verbal knowledge and expressive ability. The recognition format, which requires less expressive ability, has been suggested to be more sensitive in assessing the fund of verbal knowledge. We assessed vocabulary performance of 285 normal individuals (aged 6 to 23 years) using both free expressive and recognition tasks. Results showed that participants aged 6 to 15 performed significantly better on the recognition than on the free expressive task. While the recognition task significantly correlated with the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence-Third Edition (TONI-III) IQ for individuals aged 9 and above, the free expressive task correlated with TONI-III IQ only for young adults. Shortened 18-item versions yielded high reliability and correlation with the full version and reliable association with TONI-III IQ. These results highlight the utility of recognition tasks in measuring the fund of knowledge and suggest the possibility of developing shorter vocabulary tests for more cost-effective assessment.

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