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Using Common Testing Techniques Effectively

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1 Using Common Testing Techniques Effectively
Writing Multiple-choice, Gap-filling, and Short-answer Items Hanh Thi Nguyen, Ph.D. TESL Programs Learning Assessment Committee member

2 What is a ‘good’ test? An effective test
measures what it is supposed to measure (has validity) measures consistently (has reliability) is practical to make, administer, and score (has practicality) has positive effects on learning (has positive washback)

3 How to meet those criteria?
Validity: Write test items that correspond to course objectives Make sure only these objectives are tested Reliability: Include not too few items, but not too long a test either Eliminate distracting factors in the environment Make sure scoring is done consistently Make sure candidates are familiar with testing format Make sure instructions are non-ambiguous Practicality Consider time and cost Sometimes practicality conflicts with validity and reliability, so test what needs to be tested, do not just test what is easy to test Positive washback Make sure test can improve teaching Make sure test has positive impact on learning

4 Common testing techniques
Multiple-choice items Gap-filling items Short-answer items Extended response (essay) items – not covered today

5 Multiple-choice items
1. What is the shape of the earth? Stem Options A. round key B. square distractor C. oval distractor D. triangular distractor

6 Advantages of MC items Objective testing Scoring is easy
Less dependent on students’ writing skills Can cover a broad range of contents Very effective when eliciting a best answer

7 Disadvantages of MC items
Testing only recognition knowledge, no production knowledge Candidates have a 25% chance to guess right (if 4 options) – hence, “multiple-guess” test Not always possible to have 3-4 plausible alternatives to correct answer

8 Examples If I ___ him last year, I ___ him to help me. A. know, ask B. knew, asked C. have known, asked D. had known, would have asked Key is the longest string – facilitates guessing Option A not likely to distract

9 Examples She started to ____, thinking about his death. A. giggle B. complain C. shout D. weep All 4 options are possible answers. Need further context to restrict answer.

10 Suggestions for constructing MC items
For the stem: Use direct questions rather than incomplete sentences. Present a single question or problem in stem Make sure to include in the stem the words that are repeated in all options (avoid redundancy)

11 Suggestions for constructing MC items
For the options Use errors commonly made by students in class as basis for distractors Use options that say “none of the above”, “all of the above”, “A & B only” sparingly Avoid having the key being the longest or shortest item When possible, present options in some logical order (chronological, least to most, alphabetical…) Use similar format for all options (all are phrases, all are single words, etc.)

12 True/False items Essentially, T/F items are MC items with only 2 options Advantages: Good for testing misconceptions, comprehension Can be scored quickly Disadvantages: Students have a chance to guess the right answer

13 Suggestions for constructing T/F items
Make sure there is a single idea in the stem Make sure the statement is either absolutely true or false, no exceptions Avoid using extreme qualifiers (never, always, etc.) whenever possible Avoid using negative statements Avoid recycling the exact statement from the text Avoid using unfamiliar vocabulary

14 Matching items Directions: On the line next to each children’s book in
Column A print the letter of the animal or insect in Column B that is a main character in that book. Each animal or insect in Column B can be used only once. Column A Column B ____1. Charlotte’s Web A. Bear ____2. Winnie the Pooh B. Chimpanzee ____3. Black Beauty C. Cricket ____4. Tarzan D. Deer ____5. Pinocchio E. Horse ____6. Bambi F. Pig

15 Matching items: advantages & disadvantages
Essentially are MC items, in which the answer of one item also depends on the answers of the other items in the matching set Advantages: Good for testing Definitions Classifications Cause and effects Problems and solutions Relationship between 2 entities (e.g., event-date, book-character) Disadvantages Items are inter-related Time consuming for test-takers Not suitable for all knowledge and learning skills

16 Suggestions for constructing matching items
Make sure all items are of the same topic Directions: Match the following. 1. Water A. NaCl 2. Discovered Radium B. Fermi 3. Salt C. NH3 4. Ammonia D. 1942 5. Year of the first Nuclear Fission E. H F. Curie G. 1957 Do not mix matching with sentence completion, e.g., __ 1. A ____ orbits a planet. A. sun etc.

17 Gap-filling items The colors of the United States flag are ____, ____, and ____. Gap-filling items are open-ended, requiring students to produce language.

18 Gap-filling items: advantages & disadvantages
Reducing guessing Students must know answers, no hint given More or less objective Disadvantages: Answers limited to a few restricted words, not assessing higher level learning Difficult to restrict answers, it is easy to have more than one correct answer Scoring takes more time than MC items

19 Examples The smallest phonetic ____ in a language that is capable of conveying a distinction in meaning is called a phoneme. The ______ were to Egypt as the ______were to Persia and as ______ were to the early tribes of Israel. Some men don’t have ____ on their face. An ____ is a part or particle considered to be an irreducible constituent of a specified system.

20 Suggestions for constructing gap-filling items
The gap should contain the key information being tested. Make sure the meaning of the statement is not lost after words have been taken out Make sure only one correct answer is possible. Avoid grammatical clue that gives away the answer

21 Short-answer items What are the colors of the United States flag?
Essay-test items: Extended response: paragraphs Restricted-response: short-answer items How short is short? A word, a phrase, a sentence (not a paragraph)

22 Short-answer items Advantages: Disadvantages:
student needs to produce language, less guessing can test some higher learning level easier to write: no need for distractors or strict answer restriction avoid the problems of extended response items Disadvantages: scoring is less objective more time consuming for test-takers and scorers

23 References Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for language teachers (2nd ed). Cambridge University Press. Clay, Ben. (2001). Is this a trick question? A short guide to writing effective test questions. Kansas Curriculum Center.

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