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The Nelson-Denny Reading Test is a reading measure created in 1929 by M.S. Nelson and E.C. Denny, both of whom were on the faculty of Iowa State Teacher's College. The purpose of the test was (and remains) to measure reading ability among high school and college students. The test has been revised and updated several times under the direction of James I. Brown of the University of Minnesota. The most recent revision was published in 1993. It is available from Riverside Publishing in Itasca, Illinois.

The Nelson-Denny can be administered in a group format. Total administration time is about 45 minutes. This includes time spent instructing examinees.

The Nelson-Denny includes two subtests and yields four scores. The first subtest, Vocabulary, consists of 80 multiple-choice items, each with five response options. The words were drawn from high school and college textbooks and vary in difficulty. The second subtest, Comprehension, requires examinees to read five short passages (also drawn from high school and college textbooks) and to respond to 38 multiple-choice questions about the contents of these passages. Approximately half of these items relate to specific factual content, while the other half are more inferential in nature. A total reading score is derived by summing the Vocabulary score with the Comprehension score. (The latter score is doubled so as to compensate for the larger number of items on the first subtest.) Part way through the first passage in the Comprehension subtest, reading rate is also assessed.

The primary uses of the Nelson-Denny are as a screening test for reading problems, as a predictor of academic success, and as a measure of progress resulting from educational interventions. These functions obviously overlap to some degree. The last-mentioned use is facilitated by the existence of two parallel forms of the Nelson-Denny (Form G and Form H). It is not appropriate for the clinical evaluation of reading disorders. However, it may be used to identify students in need of remedial reading instruction.

The test has been found to be a reliable measure of reading comprehension ability of the populations it is designed for over the decades of reading research using this test.


Brown, J.A., Fishco, V.V., & Hanna, G. (1993). Nelson-Denny Reading Test: Manual for Scoring and Interpretation, Forms G & H. Rolling Meadows, IL: Riverside Publishing.

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