Spoken propositional idea density, a measure to help second language English speaking students: A multicentre cohort study

Andrew M. Lunn, Daniel Matthias Bürkle, Rebecca Ward, Alice P. McCloskey, Adam Rathbone, Aaron Courtenay, Rachel Mullen, Andrea Manfrin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Idea density has been shown to influence comprehension time for text in various populations. This study aims to explore the influence of spoken idea density on attainment in young, healthy subjects using demographic characteristics.
Students watched two online lectures and answered 10 multiple choice questions on them. Students received one more idea dense (MID) and one less idea dense (LID) lecture on two different subjects.
Seventy-five students completed the study achieving a higher median score after a less idea-dense lecture (LID = 7(3), MID = 6(3), p = 0.04). Artificial neural network models revealed the first language as the main predictor of exam performance. The odds ratio (OR) of obtaining ≥70% after a more idea-dense lecture was six-time higher for the first language versus second language English speakers (OR = 5.963, 95% CI 1.080–32.911, p = 0.041). The odds ratio was not significant when receiving a less dense lecture (OR = 2.298, 95% CI 0.635–8.315, p = 0.205). Second-language speakers benefited from receiving a lower idea density, achieving a 10.8% score increase from high to low density, versus a 3.2% increase obtained by first language speakers.
The propositional idea density of lectures directly influences students’ comprehension, and disproportionately for second language speakers; revealing the possibility of reduced spoken idea density in levelling the attainment differential between first and second language speakers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-275
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number3
Early online date9 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 9 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Education
  • General Medicine
  • concept density
  • psycholinguistics
  • Idea density
  • attainment differential
  • international students


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