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Designing Test Questions

Descriptions follow with uses, advantages, disadvantages, and tips for writing test
questions in the following formats.
Good for:
Knowledge level content
Evaluating student understanding of popular misconceptions
Concepts with two logical responses
Can test large amounts of content
Students can answer 3-4 questions per minute
They are easy
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.)
Good for:
knowledge level
some comprehension level, if appropriately constructed
terms with definitions
phrases with other phrases
causes with effects
parts with larger units
problems with solutions
Maximum coverage at knowledge level in a minimum amount of space/prep time
Valuable in content areas that have a lot of facts
Time consuming for students
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
Question/Right answer
Incomplete statement
Best answer
Very effective
Versatile at all levels
Minimum of writing for student
Guessing reduced
Can cover broad range of content
Difficult to construct good test items.
Difficult to come up with plausible distracters/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 distracters plausible/homogenous.
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 (An 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, and 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
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.

May overemphasize memorization of facts
Take care - questions may have more than one correct answer
Scoring is 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.
Good for:
application, synthesis and evaluation levels
Extended response: synthesis and evaluation levels; a lot of freedom in answers
Restricted response: more consistent scoring, outlines parameters of responses
Students less likely to guess
Easy to construct
Stimulates more study
Allows students to demonstrate ability to organize knowledge, express opinions,
show originality.
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 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-compare, analyze, evaluate, etc.
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
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.
Time consuming to give and take.
Could have poor student performance because they haven't had much practice
with it.
Provides no written record without checklists.
Student Portfolios
Good for:
knowledge, application, synthesis, evaluation levels

Can assess compatible skills: writing, documentation, critical thinking, problem
Can allow student to present totality of learning.
Students become active participants in the evaluation process.
Can be difficult and time consuming to grade.
Good for:
application of knowledge, skills, abilities
measures some skills and abilities not possible to measure in other ways
Can not be used in some fields of study
Difficult to construct
Difficult to grade
Time-consuming to give and take
How to Write Good Test Questions
When preparing a test on any given subject matter, you are flooded with available test
formats and test questions to select from. So, how do you write the best test questions
for your students? The first step in creating a strong test for students is to choose the
best test format 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. By practicing the tips outlined below, you will be well positioned to create
strong test questions for your classroom.
Choosing a Test Format
Before you begin to write test questions, you need to determine which type of test
format you are going to utilize. The most common test formats include multiple choice
questions, true or false questions fill in the blank questions and open-ended questions.
Choose the format that best measures the student's cognitive ability in the given subject
For example, if you want the student to compare and contrast an issue taught during a
history lesson, open ended questions may be the best option to evaluate the student's
understanding of the subject matter. If you are seeking to measure the student's
reasoning skills, analysis skills or general comprehension of a subject matter, consider
selecting primarily multiple choice test questions. Or, for a varied approach, utilize a
combination of all available test question types so that you can appeal to the learning
strengths of any student on an exam.
Another factor to consider when selecting a test format is how much time the students
will 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 be
more difficult to manage both the student's time and your own as you grade them. So,
take into consideration both the objectives of the test and the overall time available for
taking and scoring your tests when selecting the best format. Once you have selected
the test format, you will need to write good test questions to utilize within the test

Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple choice questions offer the most flexibility to the teacher as they can formulate a
variety of test question structures. Multiple choice questions are a great way to test a
student's comprehension level of a particular subject matter. But, they can often be the
most difficult and time consuming for the teacher to construct. They comprise of a test
question stem and several available options for the student to select from as their
Here are some ideas to utilize when constructing multiple choice test questions:
Don't use excessive wording when creating the test question stem. Be clear and
concise in your word and phrase choices.
Make sure that there is only one clearly correct answer from the options given to
the student.
Provide between 3-5 plausible choices for the student to select from as their
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 is
not 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 the
student's understanding and mastery of a subject matter
True or False Questions
True and false questions are best used when you are looking to test a student's recall
ability of specific facts or knowledge. Keep the following tips in mind when creating true
or 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...." but
instead use 'this novel was written by...."
Use a random order of true and false responses with your test questions to avoid
creating a pattern
Use more false questions than true questions as they have been proven to cater
towards higher cognitive level students
Fill-in-the-Blank Questions
Fill in the blank questions require the student to know the correct answer rather than
having the ability to guess from a list of possible answers. Here are some tips to consider
when writing good fill in the blank test questions:
Ensure that there is only one possible correct answer to avoid confusion and
difficulty grading
Blanks should come at the end or as close to the end of the question or statement
as possible
Questions should recall important information taught within the lesson plans
Open-Ended Questions
Open ended or essay format questions are excellent for measuring higher level cognitive
learning and overall comprehension of a subject. They allow the student to select content
for their response, to organize their thoughts in a logical manner and to present their
ideas on a given subject matter. Overall, these types of test questions allow the teacher
to test the student's broader understanding of a subject matter. And, these types of
questions are often more applicable to real life situations that the student may be
presented with in the future.
When writing good open-ended questions, keep the following tips in mind:

Be sure that the test question clearly states the answer that you are seeking from
the student. For example, 'discuss the recent election outcome' is a poor test
question. But, worded as 'describe the potential positive and negative impacts that
Barack Obama's recent election win for president could have on the US's economy'
is a better test question as it clearly gives the student something to compare and
contrast within a focused area, the US economy.
If you are requiring the student to prepare a longer essay (2-3 pages), include
several questions that are intended to be in addition to the primary question for
the student 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 question
is, 'Explain the following..."
If you are seeking to test the student's ability to analyze a concept, a good
opening phrase for your test question is, 'compare and contrast....."
Don't give students the option to pick 2 or 3 questions from among 5. This can add
confusion for the students and complexity for the teacher when grading for a
classroom. How can you accurately compare students to each other when they
have answered different test questions?

When creating good test questions, first be sure that you have selected the best format
for what skills or concepts you are seeking to test for. Then, take your time to construct
the best possible test questions using the tips mentioned above.

Lic. A. Gallegos M. / UML, Ocotal NS.

UCA /English-Spanish Translator