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Lesson 3: Tips On Test Construction

Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Use adversely stated stems sparingly, and when using negatives, such as not, underline, or bold the print.
  2. Use "none of the above" and "all of the above" sparingly. When using these statements, avoid making them the correct answer all of the time.
  3. Only one option should be correct or clearly best.
  4. All options should be homogenous and nearly equal in length.
  5. The stem (question) should contain only one main idea.
  6. Keep all options either singular or plural.
  7. Have four or five responses per stem (question).
  8. When using incomplete statements, place the blank space at the end of the stem versus the beginning.
  9. When possible, organize the responses.
  10. Reduce wordiness.
  11. When writing distracters, think of incorrect responses that students might make.

Short Answer and Essay Questions

  1. Clearly explain what is expected of the student.
  2. Indicate the number of points each essay question is worth.
  3. If you are giving students a choice as to what essay questions they can answer, avoid giving them too many choices and make points equal for each question.

Completion (Fill-in-the-Blank) Questions

  1. The blank should be in the middle, versus the end or beginning of the question, so that the student can get as many contextual cues as possible.
  2. If at all possible, write completion items that can be answered with a single word.
  3. Make all blanks the same length, so that the blanks do not provide clues as to the length of the answer.


  1. Keep items homogenous.
  2. Keep everything on one page.
  3. Put dates in chronological order.
  4. To prevent the process of elimination, use extra items.
  5. Include clear directions such as whether or not an item can be used more than once.

True and False

  1. Keep the length of true and false items similar.
  2. Have a fairly equal number of true and false items.
  3. Do not use double negatives.
  4. As an alternative to the simple true and false forms where the answer is either true or false, make the option true, false, or opinion.
  5. Include the statement, "If this statement is false, what makes it false?"
  6. Items that use qualifiers, such as seldom, usually, and often are usually true.
  7. Items that use qualifiers, such as never, and always are usually false.

Tips On Test Construction

  1. Assess information based on the material stressed in class, not trivial information.
  2. Have students submit one or two test questions and give extra credit for appropriate questions. Have them write a question with a correct answer and source.
  3. Making tests cumulative, gives students an opportunity to integrate the material.
  4. Use the following to determine how much time students will need to take a test.
    • Thirty seconds per true/false item.
    • Sixty seconds per multiple choice item.
    • One hundred, twenty seconds per short answer item.
    • Ten to fifteen minutes per essay question.
    • Five to ten minutes for students to review their work.
    Or, allow triple the amount of time it takes you to complete the exam.
  5. Select items that at least fifty to seventy percent of the students can correctly answer, or are of average difficulty.
  6. In terms of test reliability, longer tests are considered more reliable than shorter tests.
  7. Be aware that many of the test banks and/or review books that contain test questions rarely assess higher levels of learning.

Test Layout Tips

  1. Include simple, succinct directions such as the following:
    • How to record answers if they are not to write on the exam.
    • Whether or not to show work on problems.
    • The point value for different items.
    • Directions on how to use an answer sheet if provided.
  2. Assemble a professional-looking examination by
    • avoiding splitting a test item between two different pages.
    • leaving the appropriate amount of space for each item.
  3. Leave wide enough margins for your comments, points, etc.
  4. Group similar items together.
  5. If it is a large exam, it might be worthwhile to group items according to content.
  6. To build confidence, start with your easiest items in each section.

Lessons: Index, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, References

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