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Designing Test Questions

Descriptions follow with uses, advantages, disadvantages, and tips for writing test questions in the following formats.


True/False

Good for:

  • Assessing knowledge-level content
  • Evaluating student understanding of popular misconceptions
  • Concepts with two logical responses

Advantages:

  • Can test large amounts of content
  • Students can answer 3-4 questions per minute

Disadvantages:

  • They are usually easy (from the student's perspective)
  • It is difficult to discriminate between students that know the material and students who don't
  • Students have a 50-50 chance of getting the right answer by guessing
  • Need a large number of items for high reliability

Tips for Writing Good True/False items:

  • Avoid double negatives.
  • Avoid long/complex sentences.
  • Use specific determinants with caution: never, only, all, none, always, could, might, can, may, sometimes, generally, some, few.
  • Use only one central idea in each item.
  • Don't emphasize the trivial.
  • Use exact quantitative language,
  • Don't lift items straight from the book.
  • Make more false than true (60/40). (Students are more likely to answer true.)

Matching

Good for:

  • Assessing knowledge level information
  • Some comprehension level, if appropriately constructed

Types:

  • Terms with definitions
  • Phrases with other phrases
  • Causes with effects
  • Parts with larger units
  • Problems with solutions

Advantages:

  • Maximum coverage at knowledge level in a minimum amount of space/prep time
  • Valuable in content areas that have a lot of facts

Disadvantages:

  • Time consuming for students to complete.
  • Not good for higher levels of learning.

Tips for Writing Good Matching items:

  • Need 15 items or less.
  • Give good directions on basis for matching.
  • Use items in response column more than once (reduces the effects of guessing).
  • Use homogenous material in each exercise.
  • Make all responses plausible.
  • Put all items on a single page.
  • Put response in some logical order (chronological, alphabetical, etc.).
  • Responses should be short.

Multiple Choice

Good for:

  • Application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation levels

Types:

  • Question/Right answer
  • Incomplete statement
  • Best answer

Advantages:

  • Very effective
  • Versatile at all levels
  • Minimum of writing for student
  • Guessing reduced
  • Can cover broad range of content

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to construct good test items.
  • Difficult to come up with plausible distractors/alternative responses.

Tips for Writing Good Multiple Choice items:

  • Stem should present single, clearly formulated problem.
  • Stem should be in simple, understood language; delete extraneous words.
  • Avoid "all of the above"--can answer based on partial knowledge (if one is incorrect or two are correct, but unsure of the third...).
  • Avoid "none of the above."
  • Make all distractors plausible/homogeneous.
  • Don't overlap response alternatives (decreases discrimination between students who know the material and those who don't).
  • Don't use double negatives.
  • Present alternatives in logical or numerical order.
  • Place correct answer at random (A answer is most often).
  • Make each item independent of others on test.
  • Way to judge a good stem: student's who know the content should be able to answer before reading the alternatives
  • List alternatives on separate lines, indent, separate by blank line, use letters vs. numbers for alternative answers.
  • Need more than 3 alternatives, 4 is best.

Short Answer

Good for:

  • Application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation levels

Advantages:

  • Easy to construct.
  • Good for "who," what," where," "when" content.
  • Minimizes guessing.
  • Encourages more intensive study-student must know the answer vs. recognizing the answer.

Disadvantages:

  • May overemphasize memorization of facts
  • Take care - questions may have more than one correct answer
  • Scoring can be laborious

Tips for Writing Good Short Answer Items:

  • When using with definitions: supply term, not the definition--for a better judge of student knowledge.
  • For numbers, indicate the degree of precision/units expected.
  • Use direct questions, not an incomplete statement.
  • If you do use incomplete statements, don't use more than 2 blanks within an item.
  • Arrange blanks to make scoring easy.
  • Try to phrase question so there is only one answer possible.

Essay

Good for:

  • Application, synthesis and evaluation levels

Types:

  • Extended response: synthesis and evaluation levels; a lot of freedom in answers
  • Restricted response: more consistent scoring, outlines parameters of responses

Advantages:

  • Students less likely to guess.
  • Easy to construct.
  • Stimulates more study.
  • Allows students to demonstrate ability to organize knowledge, express opinions, show originality.

Disadvantages:

  • Can limit amount of material tested, therefore has decreased validity.
  • Subjective, potentially unreliable scoring.
  • Time consuming to score unless good rubric is designed.

Tips for Writing Good Essay Items:

  • Provide reasonable time limits for thinking and writing.
  • Avoid letting students answer a choice of questions. (You won't get a good idea of the broadness of student achievement when they only answer a set of questions.)
  • Give definitive task to student--ask them to compare, analyze, evaluate, etc. (and consider defining what those terms mean to you.)
  • Use checklist point system to score with a model answer: write outline, determine how many points to assign to each part
  • Score one question at a time, all at the same time.

Oral Exams

Good for:

  • Knowledge, synthesis, evaluation levels

Advantages:

  • Useful as an instructional tool-allows students to learn at the same time as testing.
  • Allows teacher to give clues to facilitate learning.
  • Useful to test speech and foreign language competencies.

Disadvantages:

  • Time consuming to give and take.
  • Could have poor student performance because they haven't had much practice with presentation.
  • Provides no written record without checklists or video/audiotaping.

Student Portfolios

Good for:

  • Knowledge, application, synthesis, evaluation levels

Advantages:

  • Can assess compatible skills: writing, documentation, critical thinking, problem solving
  • Can allow student to present totality of learning.
  • Students become active participants in the evaluation process.

Disadvantages:

  • Can be difficult and time consuming to grade.

Performance

Good for:

  • Application of knowledge, skills, abilities

Advantages:

  • Measures some skills and abilities not possible to measure in other ways.

Disadvantages:

  • Can not be used in some fields of study.
  • Difficult to construct.
  • Difficult to grade unless well-defined rubrics are used.
  • Time-consuming to give and take.
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