Pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass (LCB) is a key step for its efficient bioconversion into ethanol. Determining the best pretreatment and its parameters requires monitoring its impacts on the biomass material. Here, we used fluorescent protein-tagged carbohydrate-binding modules method (FTCM)-depletion assay to study the relationship between surface-exposed polysaccharides and enzymatic hydrolysis of LCB. Our results indicated that alkali extrusion pretreatment led to the highest hydrolysis rates for alfalfa stover, cattail stems and flax shives, despite its lower lignin removal efficiency compared to alkali pretreatment. Corn crop residues were more sensitive to alkali pretreatments, leading to higher hydrolysis rates. A clear relationship was consistently observed between total surface-exposed cellulose detected by the FTCM-depletion assay and biomass enzymatic hydrolysis. Comparison of bioconversion yield and total composition analysis (by NREL/TP-510-42618) of LCB prior to or after pretreatments did not show any close relationship. Lignin removal efficiency and total cellulose content (by NREL/TP-510-42618) led to an unreliable prediction of enzymatic polysaccharide hydrolysis. Fluorescent protein-tagged carbohydrate-binding modules method (FTCM)-depletion assay provided direct evidence that cellulose exposure is the key determinant of hydrolysis yield. The clear and robust relationships that were observed between the cellulose accessibility by FTCM probes and enzymatic hydrolysis rates change could be evolved into a powerful prediction tool that might help develop optimal biomass pretreatment strategies for biofuel production.