How to write good test questions


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How to write good test questions

  1. 1. How to Write Good Test QuestionsWhen preparing a test on any given subject matter, you are flooded with available testformats and test questions to select from. So, how do you write the best test questions foryour students? The first step in creating a strong test for students is to choose the best testformat for the cognitive ability or comprehension that you are seeking to evaluate. Then,you must create good test questions for the chosen test format for your students. Bypracticing the tips outlined below, you will be well positioned to create strong testquestions for your classroom.Choosing a Test FormatBefore you begin to write test questions, you need to determine which type of test formatyou are going to utilize. The most common test formats include multiple choicequestions, true or false questions, fill in the blank questions and open-ended questions.Choose the format that best measures the students cognitive ability in the given subjectmatter.For example, if you want the student to compare and contrast an issue taught during ahistory lesson, open ended questions may be the best option to evaluate the studentsunderstanding of the subject matter. If you are seeking to measure the students reasoningskills, analysis skills or general comprehension of a subject matter, consider selectingprimarily multiple choice test questions. Or, for a varied approach, utilize a combinationof all available test question types so that you can appeal to the learning strengths of anystudent on an exam.Another factor to consider when selecting a test format is how much time the studentswill have available to take the test and then also how long you will have to score them.For larger classrooms, essay format or open ended question format test questions will bemore difficult to manage both the students time and your own as you grade them. So,take into consideration both the objectives of the test and the overall time available fortaking and scoring your tests when selecting the best format. Once you have selected thetest format, you will need to write good test questions to utilize within the test structure.Multiple Choice QuestionsMultiple choice questions offer the most flexibility to the teacher as they can formulate avariety of test question structures. Multiple choice questions are a great way to test astudents comprehension level of a particular subject matter. But, they can often be themost difficult and time consuming for the teacher to construct. They comprise of a testquestion stem and several available options for the student to select from as their answer.Here are some ideas to utilize when constructing multiple choice test questions:• Dont use excessive wording when creating the test question stem. Be clear andconcise in your word and phrase choices.• Make sure that there is only one clearly correct answer from the options given tothe student.
  2. 2. • Provide between 3-5 plausible choices for the student to select from as theiranswer• Minimize the use of all of the above or none of the above question answers.• Randomly distribute the correct answer options i.e. A, B, C, D etc so that there isnot a clear pattern that becomes obvious to the student• Be sure to use test questions that test knowledge, application, comprehension,analysis and evaluation throughout your test to get the best overall sense of thestudents understanding and mastery of a subject matterTrue or False QuestionsTrue and false questions are best used when you are looking to test a students recallability of specific facts or knowledge. Keep the following tips in mind when creating trueor false test questions:• Make sure that the answer is clear and that it could not be either or• Try not to use negative questions such as this novel was not written by...." butinstead use this novel was written by...."• Use a random order of true and false responses with your test questions to avoidcreating a pattern• Use more false questions than true questions as they have been proven to catertowards higher cognitive level studentsFill-in-the-Blank QuestionsFill in the blank questions require the student to know the correct answer rather thanhaving the ability to guess from a list of possible answers. Here are some tips to considerwhen writing good fill in the blank test questions:• Ensure that there is only one possible correct answer to avoid confusion anddifficulty grading• Blanks should come at the end or as close to the end of the question or statementas possible• Questions should recall important information taught within the lesson plansOpen-Ended QuestionsOpen ended or essay format questions are excellent for measuring higher level cognitivelearning and overall comprehension of a subject. They allow the student to select contentfor their response, to organize their thoughts in a logical manner and to present their ideason a given subject matter. Overall, these types of test questions allow the teacher to testthe students broader understanding of a subject matter. And, these types of questions areoften more applicable to real life situations that the student may be presented with in thefuture.When writing good open-ended questions, keep the following tips in mind:
  3. 3. • Be sure that the test question clearly states the answer that you are seeking fromthe student. For example, discuss the recent election outcome is a poor testquestion. But, worded as describe the potential positive and negative impacts thatBarack Obamas recent election win for president could have on the USseconomy is a better test question as it clearly gives the student something tocompare and contrast within a focused area, the US economy.• If you are requiring the student to prepare a longer essay (2-3 pages), includeseveral questions that are intended to be in addition to the primary question for thestudent to respond to rather than only a single question to answer.• If you are looking to test comprehension, a good opening line for the test questionis, Explain the following..."• If you are seeking to test the students ability to analyze a concept, a good openingphrase for your test question is, compare and contrast....."• Dont give students the option to pick 2 or 3 questions from among 5. This canadd confusion for the students and complexity for the teacher when grading for aclassroom. How can you accurately compare students to each other when theyhave answered different test questions?When creating good test questions, first be sure that you have selected the best format forwhat skills or concepts you are seeking to test for. Then, take your time to construct thebest possible test questions using the tips mentioned above
  4. 4. Designing Test QuestionsDescriptions follow with uses, advantages, disadvantages, and tips for writing test questions inthe following formats.• True/False• Matching• Multiple Choice• Short Answer• Essay• Oral Exams• Student Portfolios• PerformanceTrue/FalseGood for:• Knowledge level content• Evaluating student understanding of popular misconceptions• Concepts with two logical responsesAdvantages:• Can test large amounts of content• Students can answer 3-4 questions per minuteDisadvantages:• They are easy• It is difficult to discriminate between students that know the material and students whodont• Students have a 50-50 chance of getting the right answer by guessing• Need a large number of items for high reliabilityTips 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.• Dont emphasize the trivial.
  5. 5. • Use exact quantitative language• Dont lift items straight from the book.• Make more false than true (60/40). (Students are more likely to answer true.)MatchingGood for:• Knowledge level• Some comprehension level, if appropriately constructedTypes:• Terms with definitions• Phrases with other phrases• Causes with effects• Parts with larger units• Problems with solutionsAdvantages:• Maximum coverage at knowledge level in a minimum amount of space/preptime• Valuable in content areas that have a lot of factsDisadvantages:• Time consuming for students• Not good for higher levels of learningTips 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.
  6. 6. Multiple ChoiceGood for:• Application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation levelsTypes:• Question/Right answer• Incomplete statement• Best answerAdvantages:• Very effective• Versatile at all levels• Minimum of writing for student• Guessing reduced• Can cover broad range of contentDisadvantages:• 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 ortwo are correct, but unsure of the third...).• Avoid "none of the above."• Make all distractors plausible/homoegenous.• Dont overlap response alternatives (decreases discrimination between students whoknow the material and those who dont).• Dont 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: students who know the content should be able to answerbefore reading the alternatives• List alternatives on separate lines, indent, separate by blank line, use letters vs. numbersfor alternative answers.• Need more than 3 alternatives, 4 is best.
  7. 7. Short AnswerGood for:• Application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation levelsAdvantages:• Easy to construct• Good for "who," what," where," "when" content• Minimizes guessing• Encourages more intensive study-student must know the answer vs. recognizing theanswer.Disadvantages:• May overemphasize memorization of facts• Take care - questions may have more than one correct answer• Scoring is laboriousTips for Writing Good Short Answer Items:• When using with definitions: supply term, not the definition-for a better judge ofstudent knowledge.• For numbers, indicate the degree of precision/units expected.• Use direct questions, not an incomplete statement.• If you do use incomplete statements, dont 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.EssayGood for:• Application, synthesis and evaluation levelsTypes:• Extended response: synthesis and evaluation levels; a lot of freedom in answers• Restricted response: more consistent scoring, outlines parameters of responses
  8. 8. Advantages:• Students less likely to guess• Easy to construct• Stimulates more study• Allows students to demonstrate ability to organize knowledge, express opinions, showoriginality.Disadvantages:• Can limit amount of material tested, therefore has decreased validity.• Subjective, potentially unreliable scoring.• Time consuming to score.Tips for Writing Good Essay Items:• Provide reasonable time limits for thinking and writing.• Avoid letting them to answer a choice of questions (You wont get a good idea of thebroadness of student achievement when they only answer a set of questions.)• Give definitive task to student-compare, analyze, evaluate, etc.• Use checklist point system to score with a model answer: write outline, determine howmany points to assign to each part• Score one question at a time-all at the same time.Oral ExamsGood for:• Knowledge, synthesis, evaluation levelsAdvantages:• 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 havent had much practice with it.• Provides no written record without checklists.
  9. 9. Student PortfoliosGood for:• Knowledge, application, synthesis, evaluation levelsAdvantages:• 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.PerformanceGood for:• Application of knowledge, skills, abilitiesAdvantages:• Measures some skills and abilities not possible to measure in other waysDisadvantages:• Can not be used in some fields of study• Difficult to construct• Difficult to grade• Time-consuming to give and take
  10. 10. Student PortfoliosGood for:• Knowledge, application, synthesis, evaluation levelsAdvantages:• 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.PerformanceGood for:• Application of knowledge, skills, abilitiesAdvantages:• Measures some skills and abilities not possible to measure in other waysDisadvantages:• Can not be used in some fields of study• Difficult to construct• Difficult to grade• Time-consuming to give and take