I am a Year 9 student at Awatapu College, a decile four high school in Palmerston North with 750 students. My science fair project compared reading on a device with reading on paper to find out whether reading comprehension was affected by the form of presentation. My experimental subjects were the 24 students in my Extension English class and 12 teachers, meaning that each group could be expected to be roughly similar in reading ability. I divided the class in half randomly and gave one group the text on a device (a Chromebook) and the other group a paper copy of the same text.

The text was the first two pages (400 words) of Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, published by Penguin Books in 2001. I chose it because it was quite a difficult text to comprehend, being quite old-fashioned, with a lot of long, unfamiliar words. The two groups had three minutes to read the text, followed by three minutes to answer twelve identical questions on paper. (They couldn’t look at the text again, or look at the questions while reading the text.) Before marking, I asked my father to shuffle all question sheets so I didn’t know if I was marking someone who had read on paper or on a device. (They wrote ‘Paper’ or ‘Device’ on the back of their answer sheet.) I followed the same procedure for the teachers. Unfortunately, I was only able to assess twelve teachers, but this turned out not to matter.

My hypothesis was that students’ comprehension would be better on devices, having grown up with them and also because some of the students had gone to a device-only intermediate school. On the other hand, I thought the teachers’ comprehension would be better on paper.

The results were pretty surprising. In fact, the students’ comprehension was enormously much better on paper! Students who read on a device got an average mark of 5.1/12; students who read on paper got an average mark of 7.9/12, and the marks were also less spread out. A t-test showed that the difference between the groups was statistically significant with p = 0.003. This huge difference only has a 0.3% probability of being due to chance, despite the small class size.

Teachers who read on devices averaged 8.4/12, those on paper 8.9/12. The difference was not statistically significant.

This is a really important current issue. Some schools are going BYOD or device-only, others are not. My study could explain why some students are struggling with reading.

Here are the text and the questions, if you want to try it out:

“In the second half of the 1960s I travelled repeatedly from England to Belgium, partly for study purposes, partly for other reasons which were never entirely clear to me, staying sometimes for just one or two days, sometimes for several weeks. On one of these Belgian excursions which, as it seemed to me, always took me further and further abroad, I came on a glorious early summer’s day to the city of Antwerp, known to me previously only by name. Even on my arrival, as the train rolled slowly over the viaduct with its curious pointed turrets on both sides and into the dark station concourse, I had begun to feel unwell, and this sense of indisposition persisted for the whole of my visit to Belgium on that occasion. I still remember the uncertainty of my footsteps as I walked all round the inner city, down Jeruzalemstraat, Nachtegaalstraat, Pelikaanstraat, Paradijsstraat, Immerseelstraat and many other streets and alleyways, until at last, plagued by a headache and my uneasy thoughts, I took refuge in the zoo by the Astridplein, next to the Centraal Station, waiting for the pain to subside. I sat there on a bench in dappled shade, beside an aviary full of brightly feathered finches and siskins fluttering about. As the afternoon drew to a close I walked through the park, and finally went to see the Nocturama, which had first been opened only a few months earlier. It was some time before my eyes became used to its artificial dusk, and I could make out the different animals leading their sombrous lives behind the glass by the light of a pale moon. I cannot now recall exactly what creatures I saw on that visit to the Antwerp Nocturama, but there were probably bats and jerboas from Egypt and the Gobi Desert, native European hedgehogs and owls, Australian possums, pine martens, dormice and lemurs, leaping from branch to branch, darting back and forth over the greyish-yellow sandy ground, or disappearing into a bamboo thicket. The only animal which has remained lingering in my memory is the racoon. I watched it for a long time as it sat beside a little stream with a serious expression on its face, washing the same piece of apple over and over again, as if it hoped that all this washing, which went far beyond reasonable thoroughness, would help it to escape the unreal world in which it had arrived, so to speak, through no fault of its own.”


  1. In which half of the 1960s did he travel?
  2. What country did he travel from?
  3. What country did he travel to?
  4. Why did he travel?
  5. Which city did he visit?
  6. Where did he take refuge?
  7. Which bird species were in the aviary?
  8. When had the Nocturama opened?
  9. Name 4 of the 8 animals in the Nocturama?
  10. What season was it?
  11. Which animal did he watch for a long time?
  12. What type of fruit was it washing?




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