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Research Report

The Role of Set for Variability in Irregular Word Reading: Word and Child Predictors in Typically Developing Readers and Students At-Risk for Reading Disabilities

In a quasi-regular orthography like English, children inevitably encounter irregular words during reading. Previous research suggests successful reading of an irregular word depends at least partially on a child’s ability to address the mismatch between decoded form and stored word pronunciation — referred to as a child’s “set for variability” — and the word’s relative transparency, measured here using a spelling-to-pronunciation transparency rating. From the study, significant predictors included general word reading, general set for variability performance, and item-specific set for variability performance; word frequency and spelling-to-pronunciation transparency rating; and an interaction between word reading and the transparency rating. Results underscore the importance of considering both general and item-specific factors affecting irregular word reading.


Steacy, L. M., Wade-Woolley, L., Rueckl, J. G., Pugh, K. R., Elliott, J. D., & Compton, D. L. (2019). The role of set for variability in irregular word reading: Word and child predictors in typically developing readers and students at-risk for reading disabilities. Scientific Studies of Reading, 23(6), 523–532.