1. Selection of items
An essential part of testing vocabulary, is the careful selection of lexical items, and
it is generally a most exacting task. Many of the traditional types of vocabulary tests
are designed in such a way that they test knowledge of words rarely used in ordinary
1) The first step for the test’s writer is to determinate the degree of the
students’ active or passive vocabulary that he/she wants to test.
2) The next task is to decide where should the lexical items be taken from,
written or spoken language. Selection of vocabulary can be thought of as
falling into the following divisions according to the four major language
All four divisions can be included in a single test. But the test’s writer should take in
consideration the different weighting that each division will have. Generally speaking
the more elementary level of the test, the greater the number of lexical items
associated with the spoken language.
It is easier for the test’s constructor if all the students have followed a particular
syllabus. The test’s writer can select the lexical items from the syllabus, form the
students’ textbook, the students’ reading material, and lexical errors taken from the
students’ free-written work.
On the other hand, the test constructor faces a difficult problem if the students have
followed different syllabuses. That situation is often associated with proficiency tests,
in which a student’s suitability and potential for a certain task are tested. In these
cases the tester may want to use the lexical items used in the tasks for which the
student is being tested. Another method, is the selection of items from well-known
wordlists such as “A general service list of English Words” by (Michael West-
Longman); “Cambridge English Lexicon” and “The right frequency count”. These
wordlist are based entirely on the written language.
But testing the extent of a student’s vocabulary is not the whole problem. Control of
the vocabulary at his disposal must also be measured.
Also tests of vocabulary should avoid grammatical structures which the students may
find difficult to understand.
2. Multiple-choice Items (A)
This section concentrates on four vocabulary recognition items
In this type of recognition item, the stem is replace by a picture for which the testee
must choose the most appropriate word.
Obviously this type of item is not appropriate for every student, this type is most likely
to be used in an elementary level.
This Item consist of finding the correct answer for the definition that is being given.
In this one, the stem consist of a lexical item which consist of selecting the best
synonym or definition of a word.
This stem is the most complex as it consists of a sentence, thus the context gives a
specific meaning to a word that could have several meanings, and thereby making
a much more useful testing.
Since a specific context can hide subtle differences in the meaning of a word it is
advisable to provide a fairly complete context in which the testee can rely on, chiefly
in advanced levels. Nevertheless the fuller the context the bigger is the room for
hesitation at the moment of selecting the possible options.
One of the main issues in vocabulary tasks is that synonyms are not always
interchangeable within a context, and this causes testees to be misled to think that
synonyms can always replace another similar word.
In stems such as 1, 2 or even 3, there can be different answers but in cases s type
4, the context defines the meaning of the item and this is the thing that testees should
always be aware of.
3. Multiple-Choice items (B)
The same guidelines are applied in the group B as in the group A; in some way is
more difficult to construct than the previous Group.
Too little context is insufficient to establish any meaningful situation, while too much
context may provide too many clues.
I saw a nasty………. Between two cars this morning.
A. Happening B. Danger C. Damage D. Accident
Many multiple-choice vocabulary test items of the type being dealt rely on the context
itself to provide grammatical clues which automatically rule out at least one of the
These kinds of test items are useful in many respects but may possibly belong more
to tests of grammar and structure rather than to vocabulary; There can be little
objection to introducing, say, a few items on verb patterning in a test of vocabulary.
I’m………. of getting a new job: I don’t like my present one.
A. Contemplating B. Thinking C. Desiring D. Hoping
Sometimes many multiple-choice vocabulary tests consist largely of items such as
the following and that these test only a knowledge of collocation.
The television station was …………… with letters and phone calls after the
A. Drowned B. Stormed C. Deluged D. Absorbed
Since this items ignores the ability to create unexpected collocations, it can also be
argued that an imaginative use of the language is discouraged.
Unexpected collocations result from a creative handling of language.
Although the collocations in such items as the following may be tested equally well
without a context, it is usually advisable to test them in sentences.
Dr. Heston charges a high ……… for his services.
A. Fee B. Profit C. Salary D. Payment
If separated from such contexts as the preceding ones, these test items would read:
-Charge a fee/profit/salary/payment
In this type of item, however, each context requires a normal reaction and takes no
account of cultural differences.
Emma cried out with …………… at the beautiful present Mrs White gave her
A. Delight B. Horror C. Dismay D. Anger
In view of such ambiguity, it is even more important than usual to provide a context
for this particular kind of item.
This is the most common type of multiple-choice vocabulary item. It limits the test
constructor to testing only the vocabulary associated with the topic.
4. Sets (associated words)
In the testing of word sets the student’s familiarity with associations is measured.
Type 1: Recognition.
Put a circle round the odd word in each list.
Son Happy Arrive
Father Married Depart
Boy Engaged Go away
Brother Single Leave
Type 2: Production.
Write down the particular subject which is connected with each group of words.
Hand Theater Volume Nursery
Wrist Sister Track Lift
Dial Bed Head Slope
Face Ward Spool Snow
(= Watch) (= Hospital) (= Tape recorder) (= Skiing)
5. Matching items
Type 1: Suffers from testing lexical items from different word classes. In practice,
there are only three words which can fit grammatically: turned (down), broken
(down), and knocked (down).
Type 2: Tests a mixed bag of tense forms. There are only two options which can fit
grammatically (pull through, get away). It is much efficient to test words form the
same word class, or parallel tense forms.
Both items need to be rewritten, therefore, if a higher degree of reliability is to
Type 3: This type is satisfactory in many ways because all the lexical items tested
are adverbs. However, this type gives the student too little choice. For instance, there
will be only one word left for the last number. Thus, it could be improved considerably
by the addition of a few other adverbs.
Type 4: The most useful type of matching item is undoubtedly that based on a
reading comprehension passage. The students are given a list of words at the end
of the passage and required to find words of similar meaning in the passage.
Since very little additional material is required, this is an economical method
of testing vocabulary.
6. More objective items
This section contains examples of types of vocabulary items which have appeared
in certain test. While Types 1 and 2 are useful for classroom testing, Types 3 and 4
are rather artificial, and should be avoided where possible.
Type 1: Word formation test items
(a) Write a word in each blank. The word you write must be the correct form of the
word on the left.
(i) CARE Be...............when you cross the road.
(ii) CRUEL To mistreat animals is a form of..............
(iii) INTEREST Do you think this book is.................?
(iv) ENTER Can you show me the ...................to the cave?
(b) Rewrite the following paragraph, putting in each blank the correct form of the
word in capital letters.
‘Can you spare a ……………….. ?’ Peter asked his brother. He thought the he could
detect a ………………..... Look of impatience on his elder brother’s face, but it was
gone in an instant.
‘I’m very busy at the ……………….,’his elder brother said.
‘What is it you want to speak to me about?’ he asked Peter. Peter’s mind …............
went blank. ‘I’ve forgotten,’ he said.
‘Well, then it must have been nothing of………………… importance,’ his elder
brother said rather sarcastically.
Type 2: Items involving synonyms.
(a) Write in each space the best word to replace the words underlined in each
(i) Tom went at once to the doctor's. Immediately
(ii) All of a sudden there was a loud cry. ...................
(iii) I came across an interesting book. ...................
(iv) The boat is over fourteen feet in length ...................
(b) In each space write one word that means almost the same as the word on the
left. The word you write must rhyme with the word on the right.
Example: early soon moon
(i) Purchase ...................die
A similar item may be constructed so as to involve antonyms rather than synonyms.
The phonological element (rhyming) in 2(b), however, may only confuse testees
instead of helping them. Is of the little use and is not to be recommended for most
purposes. The activity involved is more a game than test.
Type 3: Rearrangement items
Rearrangement the following letters to make words. Then use each word in a
sentence of your own so as to show the meaning of the word.
PLEAP ROLRY CELPA
SUHOE IRACH EGURA
As can be seen, this item is little more than a crossword puzzle. It may, perhaps, be
of some use in an intelligence test, but it is of doubtful use in a language test.
Type 4: Definitions
(a) Use each of the following words in a sentence so as to show the meaning of the
Economy politics industrious (etc.)
(b) Explain the meaning of each of the underlined words in the following phrases.
An archaic word a fortuitous event
These item types are of very little use. They test writing ability in addition to
knowledge of word meanings. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult even for native
speakers to produce sentences 'to show the meaning' of words - and it is certainly
not a useful task. A student may be familiar with the meaning of a word and may use
it correctly, without being able to express this meaning clearly in a sentence
(especially under test conditions).
‘’ To summarize, these techniques are very efficient for our students because if you
apply these methods you will make that your students learn more vocabulary in
different ways. These methods are more dynamic which makes that your students
develop interest and learn more (in this case vocabulary).’’
7. Completion items
The type of completion of items can be used for the testing of vocabulary. The
completion of test it’s the most structured of all constructed – response items and it
offers the least freedom in giving response.
The task is presented in a sentence in which a word, a number, a symbol, or a series
of words has been omitted. Students are asked to finish the sentence by constructing
a response that makes a complete statement.
This test consists of a series of items which requires the testee to fill a word or phrase
on the blanks.
The completion item requires the student to answer a question or to finish an
incomplete statement by filling in a blank with the correct word or phrase. For
According to Freud, personality is made up of three major systems: the ___, the ___
and the ___.
Advantages & limitations
Completion items have several advantages. They:
• can provide a wide sampling of content.
• can efficiently measure lower levels of cognitive ability.
• can minimize guessing as compared to multiple-choice or true-false items.
• can usually provide an objective measure of student achievement or ability.
Completion items also have several limitations. They:
• are difficult to construct so that the desired response is clearly indicated.
• have difficulty measuring learning objectives requiring more than simple recall
• can often include more irrelevant clues than do other item types.
• are more time-consuming to score when compared to multiple-choice or true-
• are more difficult to score since more than one answer may have to be
considered correct if the item was not properly prepared.