Skip to main content

Creating Effective Test Questions

Before Creating a Test

Test items can be classified into two general categories:

  • Objective items, those that require students to select a correct response from several alternatives or to provide a word or short phrase to answer a question. Examples of objective test items include multiple choice, true-false, matching, and completion.
  • Subjective/essay items, those that require a student to create an original response to a question, grounded in fact but largely presenting a debatable opinion or argument or demonstrating a particular skill. Examples of subjective items include short-answer essays, longer answer essays, problem-solving, and performance test items.

When to use an essay to measure student learning . . .

  • When you want to reward the development of writing skills.
  • When you wish to assess the student’s reasoning or unique perspective rather than rote knowledge of a particular topic.

When to use objective questions . . .

  • When you need reliable scores as efficiently as possible.
  • When quick, impartial evaluation is essential.

General item-writing tips

Creating a good test and testing experience is challenging. Here are some tips:

  • Divide lengthy tests into sections with different kinds of task so as to maintain student interest.
  • Provide clear, concise instructions on how to complete the test.
  • Mix up the test-item types. For example, the same test may contain multiple-choice questions along with short-answer or essay questions. This variety increases the chances of accurately assessing the learning of a homogeneous group of students, each with different strengths and weaknesses in regard to taking tests.
  • Provide your students with a practice test early in the semester to familiarize them with your testing style.
  • Test your students frequently. Frequent testing has several advantages including making sure that students keep up with class work, provides the instructor with multiple data points for computing the final course grade, and gives students regular feedback on their progress.
  • If you are using test questions created by others (text books, question banks, other instructors, etc. ) make sure that you check them for accuracy and applicability to your specific course learning objectives.
  • Proofread all test items.
  • Avoid having test items or tasks that can only be completed successfully if one has successfully completed a previous item or task. A student’s initial mistake will result in him or her being penalized repeatedly.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of students coming from a variety of backgrounds (for example, non-native speakers of English and students with disabilities). You may need to allow such students to complete the test in a longer period of time, allow them to use dictionaries, or allow for some other reasonable accommodation.

Additional Resources

A Short Guide to Writing Effective Test Questions