We all want our students to succeed. We try to encourage honest learning and do not just teach to the test.
We do assess our students, but can we influence their success merely by the test questions we write? We most certainly can. Following are some helpful tips learned from experience to help you write successful test questions.
Multiple Choice Questions
The grammar you use in your answer choices may be influencing how your students choose an answer. Make sure all your choices are grammatically parallel. In other words, if you ask, “Where does a rabbit live?”, phrase all your answers as prepositional phrases. A. In a house B. In a car C. Under a bridge D. In a warren. If you offered choice E. dangerously close to the highway, it will obviously be incorrect because it is phrased differently than the other choices.
Though every education student has probably heard it, watch your vowels. Always give the possibility of either a or an when asking a question. You can include the choice either in the question itself or in the answers. What does a rabbit eat for breakfast? A. a carrot B. a protein shake C. an egg D. a piece of toast,
(or a rabbit eats a(n)___________ for breakfast).
Keep all your answers around the same length. If one answer is significantly longer or shorter than all the rest, it will likely be the best choice or an easy elimination. Try to write about the same amount for each answer option to avoid give away answers.
Fill In the Blank Questions
There is a difference between recognition knowledge of a word and recall knowledge of a word. Recognition knowledge means you understand the word when you hear it or read it. Recall knowledge means you can and will use the word in your own speech or writing. Everyone no matter what his language has a greater recognition vocabulary than a recall vocabulary. Test your students’ ability to understand the material you have presented, their recall knowledge, by providing them with a word bank. The word bank can have more words or the same number that your students will need to fill in the blanks. Because providing a word bank tests their recall knowdlege, it is a better measure of what they have learned than testing their recall knowledge and asking them to elicit vocabulary words on their own.
True False Questions
Do not try to trick your students with questions that have minor changes in them to make them false. When testing on literature, do not make up false names for characters or change letters in words to make them incorrect. This is confusing for your students and does not give you a useful gauge on their comprehension of the material. Instead, try to test general comprehension of the material.
If you really want to know what your students have learned, have them correct the false statements to make them true. This will eliminate random guessing and also give you a better idea what concepts your students might not understand yet. You may also find that you have to cover specific material again or explain a concept in another way.
Start your test with the easiest questions and move toward those that are more difficult. Though you might want to mix up the order to challenge your students, going from easier to harder questions alleviates stress for your students and makes for a better testing experience. Not to mention, standardized tests like the SAT and TOEFL follow this organization, so structuring your tests that way will help your students on these important tests in the future.
Test multiple learning levels. The majority of your questions should target the lower learning levels of recall, comprehension and application. Do not be afraid, however, to add one or two questions testing higher levels of learning like analysis, synthesis and evaluation (see Bloom’s taxonomy of learning for more information on learning levels). Test these higher levels sparingly, especially if you have not spent a lot of time during class on these types of activities.
Give your students experience with the types of questions with which you will be testing. The test should not be the first time they have seen a fill in the blank or made corrections to an incorrect sentence. Your students should have practice with the form so you can test the content and not the form.
Tell them ahead of time what will be on the test both in structure and in content. It does not hurt you as a teacher or skew your test results to give your students a heads up about the type of questions that will be on the test. Giving your students this information ahead of time means you cannot write your test the night before, but that makes for a higher quality piece of evaluation anyway. Also, give them some idea what content will be covered on the test though you do not have to give specifics. Page numbers, lecture dates or book chapters are sufficient.
Include the points each section is worth. This way students can budget their time to be most impactful for them. Neither you nor they want them to spend ten minutes struggling to answer a question of minimal importance. Let them have full knowledge of what is weightiest as they take the test so they can prioritize as they take it.
Expect your students to have “foreign” handwriting. Even though English is taught in places all around the world, handwriting is not the same everywhere. Do not be surprised if your students consistently write in a penmanship style that is challenging for you to read.
When a person is scared, angry or is experiencing any strong emotion, language will instinctively revert to what is most natural for that person. Do what you can to relieve as much of your students’ stress as possible by writing good test questions so that you are testing their knowledge at its best, not its worst. It will make you a better teacher and your students better learners.
Susan likes to enjoy every day to its fullest whether she is freelance writing, teaching homeschoolers, or developing her special talent of instigation. When she is not imagining sand castles or catching others off balance, she cooks, sings, reads and takes walks in the sunshine. She earned an M.A. from the University of Delaware in Linguistics and an M.A. from Trinity School for Ministry in Youth Ministry. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and her three cheepy cockatiels.
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