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Palomar College Learning For Success

Test Writing Strategies

Opportunities to Improve Our Educational Approach

Strategy Summary


We are at the point of our investigation where we need to start looking in more detail at test construction.  Here is a brief summary that puts together the pieces of what we have learned so far.

Our challenges

Write an accurate measure of student achievement that

  • motivates students and reinforces learning,
  • enables us to assess student mastery of course objectives,
  • and allows us to recognize what material was or was not communicated clearly.

Some things we can do to accomplish this

In general, when designing a test we need to

  • consider the length of the test,
  • write clear, concise instructions,
  • use a variety of test item formats,
  • test early and/or frequently,
  • proofread and check for accuracy,
  • consider the needs of our disabled or non-native speaker students,
  • and use humor.

More specifically, our test goals are to

  • Assess achievement of instructional objectives,
  • measure important aspects of the subject,
  • accurately reflect the emphasis placed on important aspects of instruction,
  • measure an appropriate level of student knowledge,
  • and have the questions vary in levels of difficulty.

We should consider the technical quality of our tests

Quality means “conformance to requirements” and “fitness for use.”  The criteria are

  • offering cognitive complexity,
  • reviewing content quality,
  • writing meaningful questions,
  • using appropriate language,
  • being able to generalize about student learning from their test performance,
  • and writing a fair test with answers that represent what students know.

A useful tool is Bloom’s Taxonomy

It lists learning levels in increasing order of complexity:

  1. Remembering
  2. Understanding
  3. Applying
  4. Analyzing
  5. Evaluating
  6. Creating

To apply Bloom’s directly, we looked at

  • Lists of verbs associated with each level (some were discipline-specific),
  • question frames — nearly complete questions we can modify for our topics,
  • and knowledge domains — the kinds of knowledge that can be tested:
    • factual,
    • conceptual,
    • procedural,
    • and metacognitive.

Next up:  Learning what question types to use to achieve our goals.

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