ERIC Identifier: ED315426
Publication Date: 1989-11-00
Author: Childs, Ruth Axman
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for
Research Washington DC.
Constructing Classroom Achievement Tests. ERIC Digest.
Achievement tests are well suited to provide educators with objective
feedback as to how much students are learning and understanding. Commercially
published achievement tests, if used carefully, can provide not only evaluations
of the knowledge levels of individual students, but also information about how
those students compare with students in other schools. While assessing a wide
range of skills, however, commercial achievement tests often provide only
limited instructional guidance. They seldom provide feedback on the mastery or
non-mastery of the full range of specific skills taught in any given classroom.
The most instructionally-relevant achievement tests are those developed by
the individual teacher for use with a particular class. Teachers can tailor
tests to emphasize the information they consider important and to match the
ability levels of their students. If carefully constructed, classroom
achievement tests can provide teachers with accurate and useful information
about the knowledge retained by their students.
This digest is meant for classroom teachers. It describes the steps of test
construction--designing the test, writing the questions, and checking the test
for construction problems. It also presents suggestions for interpreting the
outcomes of achievement tests.
STEP 1. DESIGNING THE TEST
The first step in constructing an effective achievement test is to identify
what you want students to learn from a unit of instruction. Consider the
relative importance of the objectives and include more questions about the most
important learning objectives. If, however, the test focuses on a few objectives
to the exclusion of others, students will not have the opportunity to
demonstrate their understanding of other aspects of the material and you may not
be able to make an accurate assessment of each student's knowledge.
The learning objectives that you want to emphasize will determine not only
what material to include on the test, but also the specific form the test will
take. For example, if it is important that students be able to do long division
problems rapidly, consider giving a speeded test. The types of questions to be
used will also depend on the learning objectives. If it is important for
students to understand how historical events affected one another, then short
answer or essay questions might be appropriate. If it is important that students
remember dates, then multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions might be
STEP 2. WRITING THE QUESTIONS
Once you have defined the important learning objectives and have, in the
light of these objectives, determined which types of questions and what form of
test to use, you are ready to begin the second step in constructing an effective
achievement test. This step is writing the questions.
While the different types of questions--multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank or
short answer, true-false, matching, and essay--are constructed differently, the
following principles apply to constructing questions and tests in general.
1. Make the instructions for each type of question simple and brief.
2. Use simple and clear language in the questions. If the language is
difficult, students who understand the material but who do not have strong
language skills may find it difficult to demonstrate their knowledge. If the
language is ambiguous, even a student with strong language skills may answer
incorrectly if his or her interpretation of the question differs from the
instructor's intended meaning.
3. Write items that require specific understanding or ability developed in
that course, not just general intelligence or test-wiseness.
4. Do not suggest the answer to one question in the body of another question.
This makes the test less useful, as the test-wise student will have an advantage
over the student who has an equal grasp of the material, but who has less skill
at taking tests.
5. Do not write questions in the negative. If you must use negatives,
highlight them, as they may mislead students into answering incorrectly.
6. Specify the units and precision of answers. For example, will you accept
numerical answers that are rounded to the nearest integer?
Multiple Choice Questions
The most commonly used type of question is the multiple-choice question.
Multiple-choice questions are more easily and objectively graded than essay
questions and are more difficult to answer correctly without the required
knowledge than true-false questions. Multiple-choice questions, however, are
probably the most difficult type of question to construct. The following are a
few guidelines for multiple-choice question construction.
1. State clearly in the instructions whether you require the correct answer
or the best answer to each item.
2. Instead of repeating words in each alternative, include these words in the
main body of the question. This will make the question easier to read and the
options easier to compare. The grammar or structure of the main part of the
question must not contain clues to the correct response, however.
3. Make incorrect alternatives attractive to students who have not achieved
the targeted learning objectives.
4. Vary randomly the placement of correct responses.
5. Make all choices exactly parallel. Novice test writers tend to make the
correct answer longer and more carefully worded and, by doing so, may provide a
clue to the correct answer.
6. Never offer "all of the above" or "none of the above" as an alternative in
a best-response multiple-choice question. Whether "none of the above" is chosen
as a better response than one of the other options may depend on what evidence
the student considers rather than how well he or she understands the material.
7. Control the difficulty of a question by making the alternatives more or
less similar or by making the main part of the question more or less specific.
If the alternatives are more similar, the student will have to make finer
distinctions among them. If the main part is more specific, the student will be
required to draw on more detailed knowledge.
STEP 3. FINAL CHECK
Finally, review the test. Are the instructions straightforward? Are the
selected learning objectives represented in appropriate proportions? Are the
questions carefully and clearly worded? Special care must be taken not to
provide clues to the test-wise student. Poorly constructed questions may
actually measure not knowledge, but test-taking ability. For example, if two
options on a multiple choice question are redundant, a test-wise student will
realize that neither can be the correct answer. By eliminating two choices the
student increases his or her chances of answering the question correctly.
INTERPRETING THE TEST RESULTS
If you have carefully
constructed an achievement test using the above principles, you can be confident
that the test will provide useful information about the students' knowledge of
the learning objectives. Considering the questions relating to the various
learning objectives as separate subtests, you can develop a profile of each
student's knowledge of or skill in the objectives. The scores of the subtests
can be a useful supplement to the overall test score, as they can help you
identify specific areas which may need attention. A carefully-constructed
achievement test can, by helping you know what your students are learning, help
you to teach more effectively and, ultimately, help the students to master more
of the objectives.
Brown, Frederick G. Principles of
Educational and Psychological Testing. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.
Ebel, Robert L. Essentials of Educational Measurement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972.
Gronlund, Norman E. Constructing Achievement Tests. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Nunnally, Jum C. Educational Measurement and Evaluation. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964.