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.

Don’t give away the answer with the formatting of questions and answers
Formatting can give away the correct answer, even with no context of the subject.

Question format 

The example above includes three lines, which gives away the answer of New York City because the other options are two words or less. 

Sentence and answer format

Even with no context of the event or attendees, you can probably guess the correct answer based on the titles before the blanks and the order of the names. A simple way to improve this question is to remove Mr. and Ms.

Click here for in-depth tips for each question type.

Tips for Writing Test Rules
Remove subjectivity
Just like test questions, make sure the test rules are clear and objective.

Less effective: No other devices in view during this exam.
More effective: Remove all other electronic devices from the testing area/room during all exams.

  • In the “Less effective” example, students may think: “I can’t have other devices in view of the webcam, but I can use them if they’re out of view.”

Less effective:  Don’t speak to people in your testing room.
More effective: No talking during all exams.

  • In the “Less Effective” example, students may think: “It’s okay to ask my friend because they’re in a different room.”

Less effective:  Do not copy and paste functions.
More effective: Do not use any copy, cut, or paste function.

  • In the “Less Effective” example, the student may think: “I can’t copy and paste, but I can use cut and paste.”

Use test rules, LMS settings, and proctor notes to allow accommodations
Accommodations are an important part of accessibility in online learning and they’re often needed to provide a fair and equitable test experience. 
Extend exam time limits and attempts
Use LMS exam settings to provide extra time to complete the exam and multiple attempts. 

Allow assistive technology
Aside from ensuring the assistive technology integrates with your LMS and proctoring solution, provide notes for the remote proctor that specific students are allowed to use assistive technology. 

For example:

  • Jane Doe can use a screen reader during the online test. 
  • John Smith can use speech-to-text software.

Allow certain resources
By providing proctors with instructions, you can allow students to use other resources to complete the exam, such as scratch paper, books, and access to specific websites.

Provide bathroom breaks
If you’re using online proctoring, allowing bathroom breaks can be completed by adding notes for the test proctor, such as:

  • Students are allowed one 3-minute bathroom break.
  • John Doe is allowed three bathroom breaks.

Use online proctoring to protect academic integrity and support students
Honorlock’s online proctoring solution combines AI test monitoring with live test proctors to make online proctoring simple, easy, and human. The AI monitors the exam for potential academic dishonesty and alerts a live proctor in real-time if it detects any issues. This blend of AI and human review delivers a non-invasive proctored testing experience for the student because they aren’t constantly being watched. 

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