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Word Difficulty Survey
See also: Essential Patterns Seldom Systematically Taught

This simple survey demonstrates the simple principle that words containing phonic patterns never systematically taught are more difficult to read or spell than those words that contain phonic patterns normally taught or encountered in whole language classrooms during the first three years of school.

Which word in each pair of words is more likely to be misspelled or too difficult for a student to read?

The Survey Test was given to over 1,000 adults (mostly teachers).  53.85% had perfect scores.  32.69% missed only one.  9.61% missed two.  Only 3.84% missed more than two!  Both the mode and the median were 100% correct.  Only the mean was less.

Which word in each pair of words is more likely to be misspelled or too difficult for a student to read?

1.
painter
partial
2.
precious
pretends
3.
chateaux
churches
4.
booklets
boutique
5.
mechanized
meaningful
6.
unions
unsafe
7.
mistakes
missions
8.
petites
pecking
9.
collected
collusion
10.
spending
specials

View the answers to this test and an analysis of its results.

Prediction:  Even though each word pair has the same number of letters and syllables and begin with exactly the same two letters, the mode and the median score will be 100% correct.  The mean will be close to 90% correct! Reason?  We all intuitively know that we haven't been taught or haven't been systematically exposed to the phonic patterns in one of each pair of words.  Believe it or not, all the words below are phonically regular!

If you would like a listing of patterns not systematically taught, see The Mechanics of English Spelling.  Also see Essential Patterns Seldom Systematically Taught.

If you still are a Doubting Thomas, we challenge you to make a spot check on one of your students who is reading somewhere in the vicinity of 3.5 and have him/her read an article from a newspaper or magazine.  Mark the words missed.  If you don't quite understand which patterns are taught and which aren't, send the results to me and I'll mark each word missed with a notation as to the phonic pattern that is or isn't taught.

If you send me the article that you choose to use, I can mark the words beforehand that contain the patterns not systematically taught and you can then easily judge whether or not your student missed 3 out of 4 of those words and whether 3 out of every 4 words he missed contained one or more of those patterns.  You can do this by
contacting us.

Skeptics are encouraged to substitute words for those chosen by Professor AVKO.  All he asks is that in any computer-generated list of words chosen at random:

  1. the same initial consonant blends or digraphs are used;

  2. the total number of letters in the easier words is exactly the same as the total number of letters in the harder words;

  3. in each pair of words, one contains only patterns commonly encountered in grades 1-3 (the easier);

  4. and the other contains at least one pattern rarely encountered in those crucial first three grades.  For example, in the pair meaningful and mechanized, meaningful has 100% simple commonly encountered parts, i.e., /m/ ea /n/ ing /ful/.  However, the word mechanized has two patterns rarely encountered.  First the ch in mechanized is not pronounced /ch/ as in chop, chicken, and church.  Rather, it is pronounced /k/ as in chaos, echo, anarchy, and Christian.  The letters an in mechanized are not pronounced to rhyme with Dan and fan even though they are in the words mechanic and mechanical! The words containing patterns such as these usually occur in the curriculum after the third grade. 

Do you know where you can find a complete listing of all these power patterns found in “big” words not taught in the first three grades?  They can be found in The Patterns of English Spelling.

View the answers to this test and an analysis of its results.

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