Avoid confusion with test questions by using the right questions, choosing words carefully, and paying attention to formatting.

Tips to write better test questions and rules


Avoid confusion by using the right questions, choosing words carefully, and paying attention to formatting

If you’ve ever parked in a city, you know that parking signs can be confusing and subjective. 

For example, “Compact Car Parking Only.” It’s a pretty common sign, but it leaves room for interpretation because the driver may think, “Compact compared to what?”

Similarly, when writing test questions and rules, it can be tricky because one word or formatting issue can create confusion.

While parking signs may always be a struggle, here are some practical tips to help write better test questions and rules.

Tips to write better test questions
Use appropriate question types based on the learning objectives
There are many variables, but here are examples of when to use each question type:

  • Multiple choice: Terms and definitions, association and comparison, student feedback.
  • True or false: Terms and definitions, recalling concepts, and student feedback. 
  • Fill-in-the-blank: Terms and definitions, recalling concepts, and chronological order.
  • Authentic assessment: Hands-on tasks, in-depth problem solving, math problems, presentations, and demonstrations.
  • Written: Terms & definitions, organizing information, associating & comparing, hands-on tasks, in-depth problem solving, math problems, and student feedback.
  • Matching & Ranking: Organizing information such as dates, order, and level of importance, terms & definitions, cause & effect, scenarios and responses, and math problems.

Be careful with word choice
Seemingly small word choices can change the meaning of the message.

Modal verbs, such as can, may, and could, help describe the possibility, ability, and intent of the main verb. 

  • With modal: I can exercise every day.
  • Without modal: I exercise every day.

Literally exercising every day and having the ability to exercise every day are two different things.

Absolute words, such as never, always, and must, are complete words that can’t be modified. While they’re definitive, they can be invalid with just one exception.

  • With absolute: The man has never exercised.
  • Without absolute: The man has rarely exercised.

Which sentence is 100% accurate? Has the man never exercised in his life, or has he just rarely exercised? If the man has exercised one time, that’s an exception, and the statement with the absolute word is false.

Intentionally Frame Test Questions
Framing your test questions gives context and helps your students understand what’s expected.

  • Less effective: Discuss the pros and cons of process improvement methodologies.
  • More effective: Compare the pros and cons of Six Sigma and Agile to determine which methodology is the best option for a large software company.

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