Simple Guidelines for Writing Test Questions
- Base the item on a single idea.
- Write items that test an important idea
- Avoid lifting statements right from the
- Make the questions a brief as possible
- Write clearly true or clearly false
statements. Write them in pairs:
one “true” and one “false” version and choose one to keep balance on the
- Eliminate giveaways:
Beware of words denoting indefinite degree. The use of words like “more,” “less,” “important,” “unimportant,” “large,” “small,” “recent,”
“old,” “tall,” “great,” and
so on, can easily lead to ambiguity.
State items positively. Negative statements may be difficult to
interpret. This is especially true
of statements using the double negative.
If a negative word, such as “not”
or “never,” is used, be sure to
underline or capitalize it.
Beware of detectable answer patterns. Students can pick out patterns such as
(TTTTFFFF) which might be designed to make scoring easier.
- Keep true and false statements approximately
equal in length
- Make half the statements true and half false.
- Try to avoid such words as “all,” “always,” “never,” “only,” “nothing,” and “alone.” Students know these words
usually signify false statements.
Multiple-Choice Test Items
These consist of the stem (or
prompt or cue) which presents a problem, and several response options (usually
3 or 5), which follow. One of the options is correct or clearly the
best answer. The other options
(distractors) are designed to be attractive to the uninformed.
- Avoid the tendency to make the correct answer
longer than the distractors.
- Using the same or similar words in both the stem
and the correct answer can give away the answer.
- Beware of grammatical giveaways. For example, if the stem ends with the
word “an” and only one or two options begin with a vowel, then the student
can easily eliminate the distractors.
- Alert students can detect any tendency to prefer
certain response options. For example, students may learn that option “c”
is most often correct or that option “a” is seldom correct.
- Avoid “None
of the above,” “Some of the above,” “All of the above,” phrases which
usually scream out that they are the correct answer.
- Order the response choices alphabetically, dates
chronologically, formulas in terms of complexity. This logical sequence will help
students locate choices.
These consist of two
columns: a premise list on the left and a response lift on the right. Students are asked to match items in the two
columns. These questions help students
see the relationships among a set of items and integrate knowledge. They are less suited than multiple-choice
items for measuring higher levels of performance.
- Provide directions. Students should not have to ask, for example, whether
options may be used more than once.
- Use only homogeneous material. Each item in a set should be the same
as the other items, for examples all names or all numbers. When different kinds of items are used
in each set, the associations tend to be obvious.
- Place longer material in the left column. This will help students locate matches.
- Arrange column material in some order. For example, names can be arranged
- As a rule of thumb, the response set should
contain a few more items than the premise set.
- Keep the question to one page and on the same
page. Arrange items so that
students will not have to turn pages back and forth as they respond.
These require students to
supply an important word, number, or
phrase to complete a statement. Blanks
are provided to be filled in by the student.
While these questions are less susceptible to guessing, the responses
could vary to greatly that subjectivity could enter into the scoring. Another drawback is that completion items
are more suited to measuring lower-level than higher-level performances.
- Prepare a scoring key that contains all
acceptable answers for each item.
- Call for answers that can be scored
objectively. Prefer single words
or short phrases. Check your items
by posing this question: Can
someone with no competency in the subject score the items objectively by
relying solely on the answer key?
- Beware of open questions that invite unexpected
but reasonable answers.
- Eliminate giveaways.
- Make all the blanks an equal length
- Avoid grammatical clues such as “an.”
- Place the blanks near the end of the
statement. Try to present a
complete or nearly complete statement before calling for a response.
- Limit the number of blanks to one or two per
item. Statements with too many
blanks waste time as students figure out what is being asked.
- If a numerical answer is called for, indicate
the units in which it is to be expressed.
These ask students to supply
written answers to questions. Judgments
are then made about the accuracy and quality of their answers. These can be grouped into three categories:
Written response items call for a fact or opinion or as much as a student can remember
about a certain topic. They are often pejoratively
referred to as “regurgitation items.”
Restricted response essays. The student responds to an unfamiliar problem by
recalling relevant concepts, facts, and principles; organizes these
recollections and writes a coherent response. These are usually a page or less
Extended-response essays. These
differ from restricted response essays in that the questions posed are more
complex, requiring longer answers.
Scoring essays can be
unreliable unless a rubric is used. (see Guidelines
for Scoring Essays below)
- Use essay questions to assess complex learning
- Favor restricted-response essays that can be
answered in about 15 minutes or less
- Structure the problem. This will make it easier to grade.
- Prepare model answers before asking students to
- Allow sufficient time to answer to give the students
to outline first.
- Encourage thoughtful answers by writing positive
and constructive comments
- Require all students to answer the same
Guidelines for Scoring Essay Questions
the same question on all exams before going to the next question
student names. This will reduce
the likelihood of biased scoring
each essay twice before scoring.