A Research in Contextual Prerequisite for Understanding Article

Essay details

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In the article, “Contextual prerequisite for understanding”, Bransford and Johnson aimed at establishing whether contextual knowledge is a prerequisite for comprehension of prose passages. The authors combined findings of various reports on contextual knowledge. Bransford and Johnson expected to find that comprehension of passages can be boosted through the acquisition of relevant contextual knowledge about the issue discussed in a passage (717). As such, they sought to compare reports where learners were presented with a passage before acquiring contextual knowledge and the outcomes of their comprehension ratings with the scores of students who had contextual knowledge.

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Study Procedure

Using several studies, the article presents various experiments touching on the level of comprehension. These experiments measure the levels of comprehension before and after learners were exposed to the context of the passage. Five groups of students participated in the first experiment with each group consisting of ten students. One group was described as ‘No Context’ the second was described as ‘context before’ (Bransford and Johnson 718). The first group was the one that heard the passage without seeing a context picture while the second group was exposed to the context picture before they were tested. Another group described as ‘Context After’ heard the passage then they were shown the context picture. The partial context group had the picture represented before they heard the passage but the elements of the picture were rearranged.

The first step was to tell the participants that they were going to listen to a passage recorded in a tape. These participants listened to the tape, and then they were informed to comprehend and recall it. The second step involved letting the ‘Context Before’ group and the Partial Context group to inspect the context pictures for thirty seconds before listening to the audio passage (Bransford and Johnson 719). Step three involved the ‘No context’ group listening to the recorded passage twice. In step four, the ‘Context After’ group was allowed to inspect the context picture. Finally, all the groups were asked to rate the passage, and after seven minutes they were asked to recall it. In recalling, students were asked to write as many ideas possible. The participants were the independent variables while the comprehension scores were the dependent variables. Other three experiments were repeated where the context in this experiment was replaced by topic.


The results of the experiment were reported based on the mean comprehension and the mean number of ideas that the participants recalled. These results showed that the ‘Context Before’ group had the highest mean comprehension and recall score. The mean comprehension score was 6.10 while the mean recall score was 8.00 (Bransford and Johnson 720). All the other groups recorded below 5 in both recall and comprehension. In the other experiments, students who were introduced to the topic before scored higher in both comprehension and recall than the ones that knew the topic after the experiment.


The study concluded that presenting the semantic context of a passage influences both comprehension and recall of the passage. Given that comprehension and recall scores were high for the students that were presented to the topic and context, then it means that they became familiar to the passage and could remember some words in it (Bransford and Johnson 721). Presenting the topic or context after the passage does not boost comprehension and recall as students comprehend texts based on pre-experimental experiences.

Likes and Dislikes

The research reported four experiments that give the same conclusion based on findings, and as such, it is credible, and I like it. However, the first experiment uses only fifty participants, and that appears to be a small sample. The small sample can give skewed results and make the study weak.

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