8 Elements of Writing Strong Questions for a Test

What are “strong questions”? Strong questions are the test questions that provoke recall and active synthesis of learning objectives. Not all eLearning developers are good writers though.

Writing strong questions to test learners’ capability is both a skill and a talent! Rest assured, with regular practice using these 8 elements, writing strong questions will soon be your talent!

Before we get into this topic, allow us to share a thing or two about “authentic assessments”. Research explains this terminology as the following:

Authentic assessment is the measurement of “intellectual accomplishments that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful“, as conmpared to multiple choice standardized tests. Authentic assessment can be devised by the teacher, or in collaboration with the student by engaging student voice.

Authentic assessments are measurable with the aid of rubric or evaluation indicators. Have you ever wondered why traditional tests were so confusing and lead to invariable scores? Traditional tests had ambiguous statements that could only be clarified with the help of the explanation from the instructor.

In contrast, an authentic assessment will describe what is needed and the grades earned at each level of proficiency or performance. This sets up clear learner expectations and also provides the needed confidence and motivation to complete the assessment.

What are authentic assessments made of? Simple – strong questions. Strong test questions determine the degree of learning achievement compared to the attempted learning objectives. Strong questions are directly related to real life or the performance context of the learner.

If hypothetical, they describe all assumptions and variables in details to be manipulated in the answer. Strong questions are detailed but not lengthy. The wordings used in strong questions resonate well with the original learning objectives of the course. Learners know what to expect from such tests.

They also know that the questions would be based on scenarios from their workplace settings. This encourages them to transfer their learning effectively in the performance context.

In short, strong questions could be performance-based or directly related to workplace settings, leading to meaningful tasks.

Questions in tests and assessments are effective only if all learners understand them and can answer them the way the instructor intended. Simple questions are easier to understand and to answer as well as to score. Aim for simple and direct questions that hint towards the learning objective they are based on.

Integrate these 8 elements for strong questions in a test design and enjoy better teaching and learning satisfaction:

1) Item Number: This is the indication of the place of the question in the test. Also the serial number of the test question. It helps learners know how many more questions they have to attempt to complete the test.

2) Lead-in: This is also known as the background information for a group of questions. This helps you keep your questions simple.

3) Question: This is the specific sentence the learner must respond to. Usually it is phrased simply as a question.

4) Instructions: Instructions inform the learner about the correct procedure for answering the question. It also defines any limitations on how many questions can be selected and which questions are mandatory.

5) Choices: Some common choices include, True/false, pick multiple answers etc. Choices offer freedom and more control over answering test questions. They are generally lighter in terms of cognitive load for memory recollection.

6) Action buttons: eLearning programs use buttons like Submit, Evaluate, Check or Next Question to progress through the test. Other options include, deleting answers, going back to the previous question or exiting the test. Use action buttons to offer a variety of options to answer test questions.

7) Constraints: Time remaining or any other limitations that apply to the test questions.

8) Feedback: This is the most important element of the test. Feedback should be presented for each question after the test has been submitted for evaluation. This enables learners to learn from their mistakes, while the concept is still fresh in their minds. Meaningful feedback is critical to effective online learning.

A note of caution on questions: If your learners can’t understand your question, they cannot answer it. A simple word or a punctuation mark could be the only difference between a clear and an unclear sentence. Tests tend to put learners of all ages under stress. Use the simplest language possible. Adding the background information before the question makes your question writing task much easier!

We hope we helped shed some light on writing strong and effective questions when developing your assessments. As a rule of thumb, always design your questions around the learning objectives and the sub learning objectives.

Good luck. Do share with us your question writing experience.

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