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Test and Question Design

Tests are usually a key component in an Instructor's toolbox of course assessments. The quality of a test's questions is closely tied to the test's ability to accurately reflect how well the students have mastered the specific content taught in the class.  The results of a well-written test also allow the Instructor to gauge, to some degree, the effectiveness of their instructional methods and course design. Conversely, poor test questions will provide inaccurate information regarding the student's performance and effectiveness of instruction. If not closely aligned with the course objectives and outcomes, they can result in misleading measurements of skills not taught.

Test Creation

Tips for creating tests and test questions

Evaluating the Test

After the test is scored, review the test results, looking for patterns and correlations. Review the questions with the highest frequency of incorrect answers. This may occur due to poor test question or response construction, because the material was not sufficiently covered, or the correct answer was mis-marked.  If students simply didn’t understand the concept, you know what to reteach. If the problem was due to poor construction, you will want to cancel out that question and recalibrate the test.   

Tests created using the quiz activity in Cougar Courses can be corrected and easily regraded. You can also review the quiz results and some statistical analyses for these quizzes by selecting the quiz, then in the Administration block, select Results and any of the subtopics below it. Contact the IDS team for help with this.

General Tips

  • When creating your test items, refer back to the instructional objectives and your teaching notes. Choose the most important objectives as the focus of your questions.
  • Match the question type to the level of assessment desired. While the majority of your questions will and should target the lower learning levels; remember, understand and apply, don’t forget to include at least a few questions designed to assess the higher levels; analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  T/F questions typically assess recall, while it is possible to write a multiple choice question that asks students to perform at a higher cognitive level.

Example question 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

  • Start with a few of the easier questions to get the student’s warmed up and build some confidence, which alleviates text anxiety that can negatively impact their performance.  
  • Watch your wording and grammar. The way you phrase your questions can influence, correctly or incorrectly how your students choose to answer. For example, avoid using more than one negative in the question unless writing a grammar or logic test.

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Keep all your answers around the same length. Test takers intuitively know that if one answer is significantly longer or shorter than all the rest, it is probably the best choice.
  • Don’t rely overly on “All of the above”. Test takers also know that this is more often than not the correct answer. They also know that instructors use “none of the above” when they can’t think of enough plausible distracters. Instead, write questions that ask students to select all the correct answers.  This is possible within Cougar Courses quizzes, by selecting the appropriate settings within the multiple choice question type. The faculty how-to guides tab in Cougar Courses has a guide entitled "Creating quiz questions".

True False

  • By their nature students have a higher probability of guessing the correct response, so consider giving T/F questions a lower point value or using for review quizzes and pretests.
  • Don’t rely on questions that have a minor change which makes them false. This is just confusing and does not really give you a useful gauge of what they know. Students who are stressed or have lower reading comprehension skills may overlook a minor change during testing that they would notice in a different situation.
  • Using words with qualifying words such as “almost always” provide a clue to the correct answer.
  • If you really want to know whether or not the students have learned the information, ask them to correct incorrect answers.

Fill in the Blank Questions

  • While these questions take more time to grade and must be manually graded if in a Cougar Courses test, there is a big difference between recognition of the correct answer and recall of the correct answer. Therefore fill-in-the blank questions are usually a better measure of what students have learned than multiple choice or true false questions.

Essay questions

  • Provide clear guidelines such as a rubric to guide your students to respond to the level you expect.
  • Consider writing several short answer questions rather than one long essay.  You can cover a wider range of material and they’re easier to evaluate and grade.