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Education Blog



22 May, 2016

One of the most important parts of a successful learning experience is the chance for learners to show their understanding of the facts and processes they are learning and get feedback from their instructors. At the same time, teachers can learn how effective they have been in facilitating learning for their students.

Testing is the best way to assess students’ learning progress and teachers’ efficiency.

Selection of Test Material

The selection of material to be tested should be according to learning objectives for the course; however, the complexity of the course material associated with those objectives (and the limited time for taking exams) means you can only sample the material in any given unit or course. Writing good exam questions  needs plenty of time for composition, review, and revision.

  • Jot down a few questions after class each day when the material is fresh in your mind. The exam will be more likely to reflect your teaching emphases than if you wait to write all the questions later.
  • Ask a colleague to review the questions before you give the exam. Another teacher might identify potential problems of interpretation or spot confusing language.
  • Analyze the results after students have completed a test. The process of test development does not end when the students take the exam; careful analysis afterward will help refine your questions and sharpen your testing technique.
  • Use a two-dimensional chart or matrix when planning an exam. Such a chart will help you select questions across the spectrum of learning objectives.

Types of Tests

1.      Multiple-Choice Tests

In testing, multiple choice is the commonly used selection type test, because it can test such a wide range of instructional objectives. One major weakness of multiple choice tests, however, is the ease with which they can be designed to require only recognition or recall of information. Test designers should aim for questions that require application of knowledge as well as recall. For example, higher level multiple-choice questions can be based on interpretation of data presented in charts, graphs, maps, or other formats. All questions in a multiple-choice test should stand on their own; don’t use questions that depend on knowing the answers to other questions on the test. Also, check to see if information given in some items gives clues to the answers of others.

Multiple choice questions consist of a stem and a number of response options. Following are some tips for making multiple choice questions.

The “stem” of the item, which poses a problem or states a question, should be written first. The fundamental rule for stem writing is that students should be able to comprehend the question without reading it several times or having to read all the options.

  • Write the stem as a single, clearly-stated problem. Direct questions are best, but completion statements may be used to avoid awkward phrasing.
  • If you do use a completion statement, place the blank at the end of the stem, never within it.
  • State the question as briefly as possible. Don’t make it too wordy or complex.
  • In higher-level questions, the stem will normally be longer than in lower-level questions, but still strive for brevity.
  • Put as much of the item in the stem as possible, to keep alternative responses brief.
  • To test for mastery of vocabulary, use the term, not the definition, in the stem.
  • Stems are used for testing, not for teaching; two sentence stems that convey information first and then ask for responses violate good practice.
  • State the question in positive form, if possible, because students often misread negatively-phrased questions.

Multiple-choice questions typically have four or five optional responses, to make it challenging for students to guess the correct answer. Only one option should be unequivocally correct; “distracters” should be unequivocally wrong. If you write items that have more than one correct answer, the student must pick out all the correct responses, each item is essentially a set of true-false questions.

There are two basic rules for writing responses that a teacher should remember:

  1. students should be able to choose the right response without having to sort out complexities that have nothing to do with knowing the correct answer
  2. students should not be able to guess the correct answer from the way the responses are written

Here’s how to write effective answer options for multiple-choice questions.

  • Write the correct answer immediately after writing the stem and be certain that it is unquestionably correct.
  • The incorrect options and the correct response should be the same in length, complexity, phrasing and style.
  • Increase the believability of the distracters by adding extraneous information and by basing them on logical fallacies or common errors students have made in class.
  • Be sure all options are plausible; humorous throw-away options defeat the purpose of having multiple options, which is to reduce the possibility of getting the correct answer by chance.
  • Ensure that all options flow grammatically from the stem. If an item reads poorly, students’ confusion will yield results that are not measures of actual knowledge.
  • Use capital letters (A, B, C, D, E) as response signs rather than lower-case letters (“a” gets confused with “d,” and “c” with “e” if the type or duplication is poor).
  • Try to write items with the same numbers of alternatives so students don’t have to continually adjust to a new pattern.
  • Keep the number of alternatives at five or fewer. (The more alternatives used, the lower the probability of getting the correct answer by guessing. Beyond five alternatives, however, confusion and poor alternatives are likely.)
  • Randomly distribute correct responses among the alternative positions so there are no noticeable patterns to the answer sequence and a nearly equal proportion of As, Bs, Cs, etc.
  • Do not use trick questions — they have no legitimate testing function.

2.      True/False Tests

True/false tests are relatively easy to prepare since each item comes rather directly from the course content. They provide the instructor the chance to write questions that cover more subject matter than most other item types, since students can respond to so many questions in the time allowed. They are easy to score accurately and quickly.

However, true/false items may not give a valid estimate of the students’ knowledge, since half can be answered correctly simply by chance. True/false tests are poor instruments for diagnosing student strengths and weaknesses and are generally regarded to be “tricky” by students. Since true/false questions tend to be either extremely easy or extremely difficult, they do not differentiate between students of varying ability as well as other types of questions do.

Here are some suggestions when constructing True/False tests:


Do not use verbatim statements from the text, negative statements (especially double negatives) and ambiguous or trick items. Be aware that extremely long or complicated statements will test reading skill rather than content knowledge. Use precise terms (such as 50% of the time), rather than less precise terms (such as several, seldom and frequently.)


If students are asked to write “T” or “F” next to the statement, it can lead to confusion resulting from illegible handwriting.


Partially or marginally true or false statements cause unnecessary ambiguity.


The words all, always, never, every, none and only usually indicate a false statement, whereas the words generally, sometimes, usually, maybe and often are often used in true statements.


False items tend to discriminate more than true items.

3.      Completion Tests

Completion questions are an alternative to selection items for testing recall, and are especially helpful in assessing mastery of factual information when a specific word or phrase is essential to know.


Completion tests prevent the kind of guessing that is possible on limited choice items, since they require a certain response rather than simple recognition of the correct answer. Because only a short answer is required, their use on a test can allow a wide sampling of content. Sometimes multiple-choice questions can be converted to completion items, a feature that can be useful in creating subsequent tests on the same material.


Completion items, however, tend to test only rote, repetitive responses and may promote a fragmented study style since memorization of bits and pieces will lead to higher scores. They are more difficult to score than forced-choice items and scoring often must be done by the test writer since more than one answer may have to be considered correct. On the whole, they have little benefit over other test types unless the need for specific recall is needed.

How to construct completion items

  • Place blanks at the end of the statement.
  • Use original questions instead of taking questions directly from the text.
  • Give clear and concise cues about the expected response in the statement.
  • Use vocabulary and phrasing that comes from the text or class presentation.
  • When possible, explain the degree of variation acceptable in the answers.
  • Do not use a long quote with multiple blanks to complete.
  • Ask students to fill in only important terms or expressions.
  • Facilitate scoring by having the students write their responses on lines arranged in a column to the left of the items.
  • Ask only one word or phrase in each blank.
  • Give students enough information to answer the question but not enough to give the answer away. For example, articles (a, an, the) and specific antecedents often provide clues.

4.      Short Answer Tests

Short-answer items can take a variety of forms: definitions, descriptions, short essays or mixtures of the three. Short essays require students to apply their knowledge to a specific situation carefully delimited by instructions. This type of question is the equivalent of a math or physics problem and is less time-consuming to prepare than any other item type.


Like essays, short answer items:

  • motivate students to strive toward understanding a concept as an integrated whole
  • permit students to demonstrate achievement of such higher level objectives as analyzing given conditions and critical thinking
  • enable expression of both breadth and depth of learning
  • promote originality, creativity, and divergent thinking
  • offer students the opportunity to use their own judgment, writing styles and vocabularies.

How to write short answer questions

  • Give clear, unambiguous directions for the expected answer. For example, if you ask for a definition, outline the expected length of the response and the specific elements you require in a complete definition.
  • On a typed exam, leave only enough space for the desired length of response.
  • With the directions, list the number of points each question is worth; for longer questions with higher scores, the worth of each section should be clear.

5.      Essay Tests

Many teachers regard essay questions the ideal form of testing, since essays seem to require more effort from the student than other types of questions. Students cannot answer an essay question by simply recognizing the correct answer, nor can they study for an essay exam by only memorizing factual material.


Essay questions can test complex thought processes, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, and require students to use the English language to communicate in sentences and paragraphs — a skill undergraduates need to practice more frequently. However, essay questions that require no more than a regurgitation of facts do not measure higher-order learning.y


Essay exams also limit the amount of material that can be sampled in the test, a fact that may cause students to complain (sometimes legitimately): “I knew a lot more about the subject than the test showed,” or “Your test didn’t reflect the material we covered.”

Essay tests also provide students more chances for bluffing, rambling and “snowing” than do limited-choice tests. They favor students who possess good writing skills and neatness and are pitfalls for students who tend to go off on tangents or misunderstand the main point of the question. The main drawback, however, is that essay items are difficult and time-consuming to score and maybe subject to biased and unreliable scoring.