Writing Effective Tests:
A Guide for Teachers
Creating effective tests is an essential task for
all classroom teachers. While it is a task that every teacher undertakes
year after year, how can you be sure you are making the best tests possible?
This month, we examine the importance of good test question construction
and provide a variety of solid suggestions you can follow when constructing
your next classroom test.
The Importance of Good Tests
Testing is a usually a key component in a teacherís overall assessment
strategy. The quality of the tests given is closely linked with their
ability to provide the kind of information you need regarding student
A well-written test allows you to accurately and
consistently measure studentsí mastery of specific content taught
in class. Results of well-written tests also allow teachers to measure,
to some degree, how effective their instruction has been.
Conversely, poorly designed test questions can lead
to inaccurate measurements of learning and provide false information regarding
student performance, as well as effectiveness of instruction. They can
also result in unintended measurements of skills not taught.
Types of Test Questions
The test questions most teachers use in classrooms fall into two broad
categories: selected response and created response.
Selected response questions require students
to select from a predetermined list of potential answers. These questions
include multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill-in-the-blank questions.
Selected-response questions are often viewed as less challenging in terms
of the thinking skills required to answer them. However, when well written,
they can measure higher levels of thinking, not simply the recalling of
facts. The writing of these test items can be challenging, and they frequently
take more time to construct. When well written, though, they are easier
to score and can provide a more objective method of assessment than do
created response items.
Created response questions include extended
answer and essays These questions measure the studentís ability
to communicate effectively, not just their understanding of content. Most
teachers have to balance several considerations when choosing what to
include in a test, including the fair assessment of knowledge or skills,
number of students taking the test, and amount of time available to score
the test. This type of question is often easier to write, but can require
more time to score. Scoring is often less reliable because it is more
Writing Better Tests
There are a number of steps you can take to improve the quality of the
tests you write.
Match Instructional Objectives and Teacher Notes
to the Test
When creating your test items, refer back to your instructional objectives
for the content and skills you want to assess. Use any lesson plans or
teacher notes regarding what was covered and assigned to ensure your test
items accurately reflect content that was covered in class. Choose the
most important objectives to assess and use these as the outline for your
Match Question Type to Level of Assessment Desired
Choose the type of questions to include carefully. Multiple choice and
matching questions offer the most flexibility in terms of content that
can be covered and thinking skills that can be assessed. True/false are
usually limited to fact recall. Try to balance the number of question
types and limit their number to no more than three types on one test for
middle school and high school students.
Construct Questions Carefully
Besides matching the content and skills assessed on the test to your instructional
objectives, the most important test-making process is selecting the wording
of each question and answer. The stem or question portion of the test
item should be carefully worded using straightforward language. Careful
attention should also be given to writing the correct and incorrect answers
(also known as distractors).
When constructing selected response questions for
multiple choice, true/false, matching, and fill-in-the-blank questions,
use the following guidelines.
|Avoid confusing students
with too many negatives in a question. (e.g., What might not have
happened had the Allies not won the war?)
||Unless they appear
on a grammar or logic test, these items rarely test content knowledge.
They also may skew the test unfairly toward native English speakers
and highly proficient readers.
|Avoid using incomplete
||This type of question
may provide grammatical clues to the correct answer.
|Avoid using ďall
of the aboveĒ as a choice.
||Students can easily
eliminate this answer by identifying just one incorrect answer.
all answer choices to be approximately the same length.
|Correct answers are
often the longest.
Adjust the level of the question to the level of thinking required
to answer it. For example:
A simple memorization task:
In what year was the Declaration of Independence signed?
a) 1770 b) 1876 c) 1776 d) 1786
A task that requires higher order thinking skills:
What later historical events best affirm the ideas set forth in
the Declaration of Independence?
a) Emancipation Declaration, 19th Amendment
b) Eminent Domain, Manifest Destiny
c) Civil War, World War I
|You can measure higher
order thinking skills by the way you word a question.
|Proofread all items
before copying the test.
are more often made in incorrect answers and may be apparent to test
Evaluating the Test
Once scored, spend some time reviewing the test and observing patterns
that may be present.
Were there any questions
that every student got wrong? If so, can you deduce whether it was due
to poor test item construction or to instruction? If it was poorly written,
you may want to consider canceling it out and recalibrating the test.
If students simply didnít understand the concept, you now know what
needs to be retaught.