Tests and Exams

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This module explores using tests and examinations as assessment methods, and some of the tools in use, such as multiple choice questions, short answer questions, essay questions and online tests. Tips for how to write good multiple choice questions and considerations for evaluating a test after it has been used are included.

Using Tests and Exams

There are a variety of types of test questions or examination formats that can be used.

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  • What tests/exams do you use as a form of assessment?
  • How do you use these?
  • Who writes the questions?

Selecting a test or exam as an assessment method

In selecting a test or exam it is useful to consider the purpose for which you are using it.

  • Are you testing for pure knowledge retention?
  • Do you want problem solving to occur?
  • Do you want a demonstration of critical thinking skills?

Therefore consider:

  • Is a test or exam the most appropriate way of assessing what you require?

The Oxford Brookes selection methods webpage provides a great guideline for these choices.

Principles of Designing Tests

The key principles involve considering two important factors:

  • What is the purpose of test/exam?
  • How do the test questions relate to learning outcomes?

Objective And Subjective Test Items

There are two general categories of test items:

(1) objective items which require students to select the correct response from several alternatives or to supply a word or short phrase to answer a question or complete a statement. Objective items include multiple-choice, true-false, matching and completion

(2) subjective or essay items which permit the student to organize and present an original answer. Subjective items include short-answer essay, extended-response essay, problem solving and performance test items.

Duvall, K. (n.d.) Measurement and Evaluation. Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from http://www.cte.uiuc.edu/dme/exams/ITQ.html (NB: site no longer available)

It is important to consider the purpose of your questions and whether you require objective "correct" responses or whether you require a more subjective answer from the student demonstrating their ability to organise, interpret or synthesis knowledge.

Multiple Choice Questions

Consider the following:

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  • What is the difference between writing a good and bad MCQ?
  • What are you using a MCQ for? Are you measuring the student’s learning or their skill at taking tests.

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  • Write a multiple choice question that tests some aspect of a student’s knowledge for the learning outcome: produce a clean load of washing from a washing machine.
  • Outline the question and 4 responses.
  • What were the challenges in writing this?

Writing Multiple Choice Questions

A useful process to follow.

  • Stem first.
  • Correct answer.
  • Then distractors.

The following resource sheet from the University of Texas offers some great suggestions on multiple choice questions -Assess students - Writing multiple-choice questions.

Key tips include:

  • Present practical or real-world situations to the students
  • Base each question on student learning objective of the course, not trivial information.
  • Test for important or significant information.
  • Focus on a single problem or idea for each exam question.
  • Avoid questions based on opinions.
  • Phrase options positively, not negatively
  • Have your questions peer-reviewed.
(The University of Texas at Austin, 2007)

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Try creating your own multiple choice question and test it out on a peer for feedback.

Evaluating the test/exam

When using tests or exams it is important to go back and evaluate the test after it has been given. Questions to consider include:

  • Were there any issues of clarity for students?
  • Did large numbers of students give incorrect answers to a particular question?
  • Were there any issues related to difficulty of marking any of the questions?
  • Did the questions test information relevant to the learning outcomes?

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Can you think of any other questions you would consider in evaluating the results of a test or exam?

Additional Resources