Cloze or Gap Fill Tests

A cloze test (or gap fill exercise) is a simple exercise where a text has certain words removed and students must suggest suitable alternatives to go in the gap.

Cloze tests are a common activity teachers use to get students to focus on a particular language item. They can be used to check new vocabulary‏‎ or to test verb tenses for example.


First a text is chosen. This can be almost any kind of text from a song to prose to poetry. Anything, in fact, which will be of interest to the students. Here is an example which might be used with students heading off to study at college:

Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays in his career and won 18 first prizes. He was also an actor (performing many of his own plays) for a while and served as a priest, as a civil administrator of Athens and a director of the treasury.

The next step is to remove certain words from the text. At this stage you need to decide what level the text is for. By removing different sets of words you can make the same text suitable for different levels.

Sophocles _____ more than 120 plays in his _____ and won 18 first _____. He was also an actor (_____ many of his own plays) for a while and _____ as a priest, as a civil _____ of Athens and a _____ of the treasury.

The doctored text is given to the students who need to fill in the gaps. Students will use the context of the gaps to work out a suitable word to complete the text. For example, the very first gap is:

Sophocles _____ more than 120 plays

Knowing the structure of English, this is likely to be a verb. Students must then decide which verb collocates with play. Alternatives might include: performed, wrote, directed and so on.

How a cloze test is assessed will depend on the reason for the test. Sometimes you will give students a list of possible alternatives for each gap in which case the assessment is objective (i.e. only one answer is possible). Sometimes you may want to allow more creativity and let the students come up with alternative words for each gap in which case assessment is subjective (i.e. as a class you might decide which word is most suitable for the gap).

Teaching Gap Fill Techniques

Often students confronted with a gap – especially in an exam – panic and aren’t able to come up with a suitable word to fill it. A simple sentence like this one:

The cat is a skilled predator known to ________ over 1,000 species for food.

Becomes in their eyes:

Blah,blah blah, blah _________ a GAP which I must absolutely fill in if I want to pass this test __________ blah, blah blah!

In this state of panic no wonder many will fail their test. To help them overcome this gap anxiety you can help train your students to work through a simple process to find the right word.

1. Part of Speech

If you can get your students to identify a few key language items like verbs, subjects, pronouns‏‎ etc. you can then encourage them to guess what may follow or precede them. For example after an article‏ you will probably have a noun and before an adverb‏‎ there may well be a verb.

In this way they can experiment with different kinds of words to see which work grammatically and which don’t, regardless of whether the meaning makes any sense or not. By doing this they can work out grammatically the kind of word (part of speech‏‎) they need to find.

Is it a pronoun?

* The cat is a skilled predator known to she over 1,000 species for food.

No, obviously not. How about a noun?

* The cat is a skilled predator known to table over 1,000 species for food.

Doesn’t look too good. What about a verb?

The cat is a skilled predator known to walk over 1,000 species for food.

This works. It may not make much sense but looking now for a suitable verb is probably a good idea.

2. Meaning & Context

Try and guess the meaning from the context, that is, the sentence or paragraph the gap is in.

The cat is a skilled predator known to __________ over 1,000 species for food.

Get your students to focus on the key words like cat, predator, food, and get some brainstorming going. How does a stray cat get to eat every day? Ok it may scavenge the rubbish bins or it may rely on the kindness of animal lovers. Anything else? Yes, it may chase a mouse or a lizard or a bird. Can you think of any other verb related to chasing? Hunt! Yes, very good.

The cat is a skilled predator known to hunt over 1,000 species for food.

3. Guess

Students, particularly those taking exam courses, should be encouraged to make guesses left, right and center in order to avoid ever leaving a space on an exam paper. If nothing is written in the gap the student will receive no marks. If something is written in the space there is a chance that the answer will be right.

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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