Monday, 25 January 2010

10 tips for writing your own test content

Here are ten tips for writing assessment questions. Thanks to our authors for their feedback, in particular Nigel Davies and Paul Aubin.

1. Aim to assess skills not knowledge. Anyone can look up which tool to use in a help file, or on the internet.

2. Plan your assessment out properly first. Before you even start thinking about questions, be sure you know exactly what skills you are trying to assess and the structure of the modules. It’s no good just uploading a whole series of questions – you need to think about whether anyone could sit the assessment and miss out on a critical area altogether.

3. Write the whole assessment first in Word or Excel, or some other package where you can organise the questions effectively. Make sure you include a reference number or some other way of identifying each question later (and any associated files) the full question wording, all options and answers, and the type of question. This will help you when preparing the online content. (However, also see tip 10 below..)

4. Name your files the same as the question reference to which they relate. It will help track them later.

5. Look for a balance of question types, and vary the length of question to keep the candidates from growing restless or bored. Also use plenty of images to make the test experience interesting from a user perspective.

6. Try to avoid lengthy text-based answers as candidates will need to provide exact responses to obtain full marks. Where text fields are used, try to keep the answers to numbers or single words. When asking for numerical input, be clear to define whether you expect the units to be entered, and how many decimal places the answer should show.

7. Questions where the candidate has to put a list of instructions in the correct order are an effective way of testing their ability to use a tool properly. If they don’t know the answer when sitting the test, the question can be very helpful in increasing their abilities. Do not overuse this question type as they can become very lengthy.

8. One of the main strengths of KnowledgeSmart is the ability to assign files to a question. Avoid using multiple-choice, knowledge only questions wherever possible and instead consider how to assess the same skill by editing or interrogating a file. For example, instead of asking “Which variable controls the linetype scaling in AutoCAD?” consider asking “To what value is the linetype scaling factor set in the file?”.

9. Make sure your questions are completely unambiguous. It is a good idea to get a colleague to sit an initial draft of your questions before you upload them to test your wording. You’ll be surprised how many different ways a question you thought was clear can be misinterpreted!

10. Copy and paste all text into a text editor before copying into your online questions. It avoids any messy formatting being passed over from Word or Excel.

As we get up and running, and doubtless receive many more good ideas from our customers on helpful aspects of question authoring, we'll continue to post the best ones on the blog.

T-minus 8 days and counting..


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