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The readability of Balaghah textbook of Malaysian higher certificate of religion (Stam): A pilot study.


A textbook is an important element in the teaching and learning process at school because it contains facts, information and topics which explain and detail the subject syllabus in the curriculum (al-Jumbulati and al-Tawanisi, n.d.; Altbach, 1983; Leslie, 2005). In Malaysia, textbooks are still being used in the educational system. The Malaysian Ministry of Education has set a vision to produce world-class textbooks which have quality information communication technology (ICT) features, are user-friendly and contain noble values able to produce individuals who are well-educated and able to compete globally by the year 2010 (Textbook Division, 2006).

One of the important issues related to textbooks which needs attention is readability (Educational Terminology, 1998) termed in Arabic as Maqru'iyyah or Inqira 'iyyah (Tucaymah and al-Thucaybi, 2006). According to Tay (2005), the readability concept differs from the ability to read. The focus in the readability concept is the reading material itself whereas ability to read stresses on the individual reader. The readability concept contains formulae to objectively and scientifically assess the difficulty-ease of the reading material.

In the context of Arabic language studies in Malaysia, there is a dearth of studies on textbook readability (Kamarulzaman et al., 2006). This is a disadvantage as studies on textbook readability would provide useful information to produce textbooks helpful to students in mastering the said language. Kamarulzaman et al. (2006) asserted that the provision of textbooks which prove unsuitable with the level of student ability would probably lead to loss of interest and motivation for learning this sacred language.

Definition of Readability:

According to Khadijah Rohani (1987), the deviser of the Malay language readability formula (Tay, 2005), readability of a reading material is the capacity of and difficulty-ease level of it being understood. Marohaini (1999) states that readability is a concept which refers to the level or degree of difficulty-ease of reading a certain material. Material which is difficult to read is said to have a high readability level while material which is easy to read is said to have a low readability level.

Klare (1969) defines readability as "... the ease of understanding or comprehension due to the style of writing." And according to Pikulski (2002) readability ia "... the level of ease or difficulty with which text material can be understood by a particular reader who is reading that text for a specific purpose." while DuBay (2004) sees readability as "... what makes some texts easier to read than others."

The above definitions conclude that readability is a concept linked to the reading and comprehension process of a reading material, whether it is difficult or easy. According to Chall (1974) it consists of three interrelated aspects, that is, interest, easy to read and easy to understand.

In explaining the interrelatedness of the said three aspects, Chall (1974) states that interest to read a material does not only depend on the topic of interest. It also depends on technical factors such as font size, thickness of book and clear colourful illustrations along with factors of ease of reading and understanding. A book which is difficult to read to the extent that the reader finds it difficult to understand the meaning intended by the author will lose its attraction even though the topic first attracted the reader's interest. Likewise with the aspect of being easy to understand, it does not only depend on the use of words and sentence structure. In fact, the reader's interest in the topic is a factor which makes a reading material easy to understand.

In summary, readability is a measurement of a reading material as to whether it is easy to read and understand or otherwise. It depends on factors associated with either the reader or the text itself. Pikulski (2002) states that "... readability is dependent upon many characteristics of a text and many characteristics of readers."

Method For Measuring Readability:

There are some techniques and instruments which can be used for measuring readability of a reading material. These techniques and instruments can be grouped under two methods, that is qualitative and quantitative (Klare, 1969; Gilliland, 1972; Chall, 1974; Hull, 1979; Harrison, 1980; Harris and Sipay, 1980).

By the qualitative method, the readability level of a reading material is determined by assessment and subjective views of expert, librarian or teacher based on certain criteria such as contents, writing style, vocabulary type, format, and text organization. And quantitative method encompasses use of readability formula, use of graphs and charts, comprehension test, and cloze test. This working paper will proceed by focusing on the cloze test.

Cloze Test As Readability Measurement Tool:

Cloze test is a form of filling in the blanks test. The Bullock Report in the year 1975 has defined this test as 'the use of a piece of writing in which certain words have been deleted and the pupil has to make maximum possible use of context clues available in predicting the missing words' (Rye, 1982). The test is constructed by dropping several words in an extract that is tested and those who are taking the said test are required to fill in the blanks guided by the sentence context.

This technique was founded by a German scholar named Ebbinghaus in the year 1897 and was named Ebbinghaus Sentence Completion Method. It later became popular when Wilson Taylor introduced this technique as a readability measurement tool in the year 1953 (Harris and Sipay, 1980; De Santi, 1986). In his article entittled Cloze procedure : A new tool for measuring readability which was published in Journalism Quarterly (1953), Taylor had given a complete report on this test procedure both theoretically and as a technique to measure text readability.

The construction for the cloze test technique is based on the closure principle, that is, a principle in the theory of information processing and Gestalt psychology. This principle sees individuals as possessing a tendency to form a perfect whole by filling in blanks found within a structure. This situation can be equated to the tendency to see an imperfect circle as if it were perfect by visualizing certain images filling up the concerned blanks.The same principle can be applied to language because it is found that a person would attempt to complete an incomplete sentence by guessing words, resulting in a language pattern formed similar to the intended meaning (Taylor, 1953, Gilliland, 1972; Nuraini, 1984; De Santi, 1986).

The use of the cloze test as a readability measurement technique has been recognized by readability researchers. Many studies have shown a high correlation between readability measurement using cloze test and measurement using other techniques such as formula, etc. (Carroll et al., 1959; Alderson, 2000). In fact, Klare et al. (1972) considers this test as better than formula because it has the capacity to measure readability whereas using formula can only estimate and forecast, while Ong (1985) notes that the study findings of Geyer (1968), Weintraub (1968) and Froelich (1970) also acknowledge cloze test as a better indicator of readability than formula. The rationale is that the cloze test takes into account aspects of the text, interaction between the text and the reader, and the situation during the process of reading.

Moyle (1971) asserts that the cloze test is able to measure readability with accuracy. This is so because this test requires those who take it to be able to know the meaning of words, read fluently, master the grammatical rules, and understand the test extract. It is seen as a more effective measure of readability in comparison to formula or other measurements of readability, while Gilliland (1972) sees the use of the cloze test as better than other techniques due to the following advantages:

i. It is seen as interactive with factors which can influence readability.

ii. The capacity of readers can be measured throughthe sample text provided for them.

iii. When the cloze test is being conducted, both the text and the reader are simultaneously measured by one measurement tool.

In addition, Torres and Roig (2005) conclude that the cloze test is one of the better alternatives to measure the suitability of reading material and a person's level of ability to read.

According to Harrison (1980), the cloze test is not only used as a readability measurement technique. It is also used to measure comprehension, to identify the reading ability level, and as a tool to aid in developing reading skills. This shows that the cloze test is a tool which can interact with the text and the reader, that is, two entities directly involved in the reading process. For that reason, this test is able to show comprehensive linguistic capability in mastery of a language (Wong, 1984).

The cloze test can also be used to measure the readability level of reading materials in Arabic language (Daud, 1977, Tucaymah, 1984, 1985). Even though studies on readability of Arabic reading materials have begun as early as the year 1978 in studies by Tucaymah (Tucaymah, 1984), nevertheless, to date there is no single formula specifically to measure readability level of Arabic language reading materials (Tucaymah and Thucaybi, 2006). Jadcan (1989) is of the view that the cause for this is the difference in characteristics of the Arabic language from the English language which renders it difficult to devise such a formula.

The cloze test is used as an alternative to the readability formula., Highlights of past studies (Abanami, 1982; Dacna, 1988; Naqrash, 1991; al-Huwaydi, 2007; Kamarulzaman et al., 2008) found that the cloze test has been used as a readability test.This is so because its reliability and validity for Arabic language text has been proven (Daud, 1977; Tucaymah, 1978, 1984, 1985; Al-Sisi 1982; Jadcan, 1989; Hassan Basri, 2002).

Cloze Test Procedure for Construction and Usage:

For the purpose of constructing and using the cloze test as a readability measurement tool of Arabic language text books, the recommendations and suggestions of Tucaymah (1984, 1985) may be used as the principal guide in addition to taking into consideration the views and opinions of al-Naji (n.d), Klare et al. (1972), Harrison (1980), Rye (1982), Hughes (1989), and Marohaini (1999). The intended procedure is as follows:

1. Selection of Number of Topics : According to Tucaymah (1985), out of the total topics or extracts found in the textbook to be studied, only 10% should be selected for the test text. In addition, according to Harrison (1980) sample readability can be improved by selecting three extracts from different parts of the textbook being studied. The same number is also stated by Rye (1982).

2. The Number of Words Per Topic : In determining selection of the three topics, the factor of number of words needs to be taken into account. Tucaymah (1985) states that the longer the text, the higher is the reliability and validity level of a cloze test. For a non-Arab speaker, he suggests a topic of between 350 to 500 words to be selected as text for the cloze test. Harrison (1980) also suggests the same number, whereas Klare et al. (1972), Rye (1982) and Marohaini (1999) are of the opinion that the text for the cloze test must not be less than 250 words. Apart from the number of topics and number of words, the presence of Quranic verses, hadith and poetry in the text should be given due attention. This is so because balaghah text usually contains many examples from such categories for which, however, deletion of words is prohibited (al-Naji, n.d.)

3. In relation to the above, the characteristics of topics selected for the text of the cloze test are as follows:

a. Three topics from separate parts, that is, front, middle and end parts.

b. The total number of words for each topic is not less than 350 words.

c. There is no example of Quranic verse, hadith or poetry in the text. In case there is, no words may be deleted from it.

4. Deletion of Words: In preparing the text extract for the cloze test, deletion of words must be consistently done. According to Tucaymah (1985) the main factor in determining which words in the text should be deleted is the language of the text. The usual approach used is that if the text language is the mother tongue of the sample, then every fifth word of the text is deleted. If the text language is foreign to the sample, then deletion is only done for every seventh word or more. The deletion must be consistently done regardless of the type of wotd such as noun, verb, and particle or its position in the sentence such as subject, predicate, doer and object. However, deletion may not be done to the first and last sentences so as to help respondent comprehension (Marohaini, 1999). Regarding the number of words deleted in each test text, Harrison (1980) suggests 50 words as this number enables improvement of the reliability test. The same number is also suggested by Klare et al. (1972) and Rye (1982), whilst Tucaymah (1984) suggests that at school level, the total words deleted cannot be less than 30 words.

5. In this regard in the context of this study, deletion is done for every seventh word except for the first and last sentences with a total number of 50 words to be deleted. In the blank space for each word deleted, there must be in place a line equivalent in length. A number in sequence is placed in each blank space concerned for the purpose of checking the answers.

6. Form of Answer: According to Tucaymah (1985) there are two forms of answers which may be constructed, that is, free response and multiple-choice answers. In the first form, there are no optional answers provided after the blank spaces. Sample is free to fill any answer he feels suitable based on the context and meaning of the sentence. As for the second form, some optional answers are provided after the blank spaces for the sample's selection. Between these two forms, Tucaymah (1985) recommends the free response form. However, this study is more inclined towards multiple-choice answers because the study sample consists of Malay students. This is so as Arabic language is not their mother tongue. Moreover, levels of achievement and mastery of Arabic language differ among them.

7. Test Administration: Prior to the test, an oral briefing is given to all respondents. Tucaymah (1985) asserts that an oral briefing and a written briefing on the test paper are very crucial as respondents may not be clear about the administration of the test or may misunderstand, in which case it may influence respondents' answer scores and thus affect the reliability level of the test conducted. In this regard Tucaymah cautions that the oral and written briefings must not neglect the following matters:

i. The briefing must be delivered and written in the respondents' mother tongue. In this study context in Malaysia, the briefing is delivered and written in Malay language.

ii. The purpose of this test has to be clearly stated.

iii. The system of word deletion has to be clearly explained to the respondents.

iv. An example of the way to answer has to be printed on the test paper. In fact, Marohaini (1999) suggests that it is best to demonstrate the way to answer on the white or black board in front of the respondents.

v. The time given for the test is stated.

vi. It has to be clearly stated that only one word needs to be filled for each blank space provided.

vii. The marking scheme needs to be clearly stated.

Hughes (1989) adds that a student should always be reminded that it is impossible to get accurate answers for all blank spaces. So they are advised to read the test extract from start to finish so as to understand the text discussion content. The answer for a blank space may be determined by information or content of the extract concerned.

8. Marking: There are two ways of marking frequently used. First, by giving marks for only answers which are exactly the original words deleted. The second way is to accept words synonymous with words deleted or any words suitable with the context and meaning of the sentence. According to Tucaymah (1985), even though the two said ways are concretely based on past studies, the first way is more used in readability studies in comparison to the second. In fact, it makes the process of checking answers easier and does not cause confusion among examiners. Next, the number of correct answers are converted into percentage and divided by the number of words deleted.

9. Determination of Readability Level : To determine the readability level, scores for each respondent in percentage will be counted to get the overall average. This average is then matched to the readability level as in Table 1.

The disappointed level is the level at which the reading material cannot be understood at all so as to be frustrating. The teaching level is the level at which the reading material may be understood but only with another party's guidance and the independent level is the level at which the reading material can be easily read and understood independently,without aid and guidance of a third party (Rye, 1982; Marohaini, 1999). According to Tucaymah (1985) if the average obtained is at the independent level, it shows that the textbook being studied has a low readability level and is suitable for use by students tested.

Pilot Study:

According to Mohd. Najib (2003), the primary aim of conducting this pilot study is to determine the validity and reliability of the study instrument. Besides that, it is also used to test the best method of administering the instrument, to identify the sample and suitability of the analysis method.

The Subject of Study:

In this study context, the book which is the subject of study is the balaghah textbook of STAM entitled Miftah al-balaghah. This textbook was compiled by two Egyptian authors, that is, Dr. Muhammad Muhammad Khalifah and cAbd al-Hakim Hasan Nacnac. For the purpose of education in Malaysia, it has been legally republished from the book Miftah al-balaghah by the al-Azhar University, Egypt for the syllabus of the third secondary year (new system). The Ministry of Education of Malaysia (KPM) has set up a panel chaired by Dr. Hanafi bin Dollah and Dr. Hasan bin Ahmad as consultants for the editing and review process before approval for use by the KP (Miftah al-balaghah, 2003, 2009).

The book Miftah al-balaghah selected by this study by the KPM is the 2009 print edition, 199 pages thick. It begins with a brief introduction on the methodology of the book's compilation and ends with a general exercise together with example answers. The topic of discussion is divided into two parts, that is, cilm al-macani (contains 16 topics) and cilm al-badic ( contains 8 topics). This textbook does not discuss cilm al-bayan.

Based on the construction procedure of the cloze test previously stated in pages 5 and 6 of this paper, the three topics suitable as text for the cloze test are:
No.                  Topic                  Pages      Number
                                                      of Words

1      [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]     29-31       369
2      [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]     89-91       357
3      [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]    185-186      358

Study sample:

This pilot study was conducted on 8th March 2010 at one of the religious secondary schools (Arabic) in Kelantan. It involves 78 STAM students (39 males and 39 females) whose selection was based on their level of Arabic language achievement in the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) stage.

Example of a Cloze Test Question:

The cloze test set constructed in this study contains 3 questions based on the 3 topics stated above. Each question contains 50 blank spaces. This means that the total number of questions to be answered by the respondent is 150 questions. The time allotted is 1 hour and 30 minutes. The following is an example of a cloze test question:


Validity and Reliability:

According to Mok (1994), a test which is said to be good and of high quality contains several special characteristics, among which are: objectivity, administrable, easily interpreted, validity and reliability. Apparently, the cloze test has all these characteristics because its marking is objective and fixed, its management easy, and the results of student achievement can be interpreted in a clear and informative way according to the purpose of evaluation. In fact, past studies have shown that this test has a high level of validity and reliability.

To ensure the validity of the cloze test contents, it was constructed according to the suggestions and views of experts in this field obtained through library research as in sub-topic 4.1 (page 5). Then the constructed cloze test set was referred to 2 experts, that is, Prof Madya Dr. Abdul Rahman bin Chik from international Islamic University Malaysia (UIAM) and Dr. Kamarulzaman bin Abdul Ghani from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). On reference, they stated their agreement for the whole of the constructed test item and contents with some suggestions for improvement and modifications.

After improvements and modifications, the pilot study was conducted. Some notes were taken during the testing of the study respondents. Among the matters which required attention was the allotment of time for the briefing before the test took place, the time needed to answer the questions, the method of managing the test, and the test format and answer paper.

And to determine instrument reliability, respondent answer data was analysed using the Kuder-Richardson ([KR.sub.21]) formula. According to Alias (1997), calculation of reliability coefficient uses this formula for a dichotomous question, that is, the answer for which is correct or wrong. Cloze test questions with multiple-choice answers are included in the dichotomous group because only one of the answers given is right. After calculation based on the [KR.sub.21] formula, the value of the reliability coefficient obtained is 0.78. According to Fraenklen and Wallen (1996) a good reliability coefficient for the purpose of research should be at a level of at least 0.70 or more. This means that the reliability level for the constructed cloze test set in this pilot study is high.

Data Analysis:

Table 2 shows the frequency distribution and score percentage (%) of reliability levels for test texts and the overall score. The table shows all of the text have a readability score at disappointed level. None of the text is at teaching or even independent level. This shows the readability level of all text is at disappointed level for all respondents. Meanwhie, Table 3 shows the average readability score based on text and overall score.

Based on the above analysis, the overall readability score obtained is 44.8%. When matched with the readability level of the reading material as in the Rye (1982) table, it is at the dsappointed level.

Study findings:

These findings show that the readability level of the textbook in this study is at difficulty level and cannot at all be understood by the research respondents. In other words, the readability level of the balaghah STAM textbook is high in comparison to the reading ability level of the study sample. Thus it can be concluded that the textbook concerned is not suitable as teaching material for them.


In this pilot study, the instrument reliability level is high, that is, 0.78. This level enables it to be used in a real study which will involve a larger sample. And whereas the readabilty of the balaghah STAM book is at disappointed level for this pilot study sample, it may not necessarily show similar results in a real study This is so because a larger sample size may reverse these study findings.


The readability of Arabic language textbook is an important study and needs to be given due attention by scholars of Arabic language education. Even though to date there is no capacity as yet to construct a formula which can measure the readability of Arabic language, this disadvantage does not mean that this study cannot be further developed. In the context of Arabic language teaching in Malaysia, the time has come for readability studies to be expanded. Thus, the cloze test, of proven validity and reliability, should be used as a readability measurement instrument of any Arabic language textbook compiled for Malay learners of Arabic as a second or foreign language.


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Zamri Arifin, Zulazhan Ab. Halim and Kaseh Abu Bakar

Department of Arabic Studies and Islamic Civilization, Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 UKM, Bangi, Selangor, West Malaysia

Corresponding Author: Zamri Arifin, Department of Arabic Studies and Islamic Civilization, Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 43600 UKM, Bangi, Selangor, West Malaysia
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Title Annotation:Original Article
Author:Arifin, Zamri; Halim, Zulazhan Ab.; Bakar, Kaseh Abu
Publication:Advances in Natural and Applied Sciences
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Date:Apr 1, 2013
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