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.
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.
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.