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Types of Test Item Formats 

Introduction 

Just as there are several types of tests available to help employers make employment decisions, there are also several types of test formats.  In this section, the pros and cons of general types of test item formats are described.  Also, some general guidelines for using different types of test item formats are provided.    

Before deciding on a particular type of test format, you should first establish a) does testing make sense (see section on Employment Testing Overview) and b) what it is you want to assess (see section on Establishing an Effective Employee Testing Program).   The determination of what it is you want to measure with the test should precede the determination of how you are going to measure it. 

Pros and Cons of Multiple Choice Test Items 

PROS

 

CONS

  • Can be used to test many levels of learning

  • Test takers may perceive questions to be tricky or too picky

 

  • Can be used to test a persons ability to integrate information

 

  • Difficult to test attitudes towards learning because correct responses can be easily faked

  • Can be used to diagnose a persons difficulty with certain concepts

 

  • Does not allow test takers to demonstrate knowledge beyond the options provided

  • Can provide test takers with feedback about why distractors were wrong and why correct answers were right

 

  • Requires a great deal of time to construct effective multiple choice questions, especially ones that test higher levels of learning

  • Can ask more questions, greater coverage of material

 

  • Encourages guessing because one option is always right

  • Can cover a wide range of difficulty levels

 

  • Test takers may misinterpret questions

  • Usually requires less time for test takers to answer

 

 

  • Usually easily scored and graded

 


Pros and Cons of True-False Test Items 

PROS

CONS

  • Can ask more questions for greater coverage of material

 

  • Does not allow test takers to demonstrate broad range of knowledge

  • Can cover a wide range of difficulty levels

  • Is difficult to construct effective true-false items that test higher levels of learning

 

  • Usually requires less time for test takers to answer

 

  • Encourages guessing due to 50/50 chance of being correct

  • Usually easily graded and scored

  • Is easily faked, difficult to test attitudes toward learning

 

Pros and Cons of Essay Test Items 

PROS

 

CONS

  • Can test complex learning objectives

 

  • Usually takes more time to answer

  • Can test processes used to answer the question such as the ability to integrate ideas and synthesize information

 

  • Can be unreliable in assessing the entire content of a course or topic area

  • Requires use of writing skills, correct spelling, and grammar

  • Essay answers are often written poorly because test takers may not have time to organize and proofread answers

 

  • Can provide a more realistic and generalizable task for test

  • Is typically graded or scored more subjectively; non-test related information may influence scoring process

 

  • Usually takes less time to construct

  • Requires special effort to be graded in an objective manner

 

  • Is more difficult for test takers to guess correct answer

  • Requires more time to grade or score


Guidelines for Using Multiple Choice or True-False Test Items  

It is generally best to use multiple-choice or true-false items when:  

  • You want to test the breadth of learning because more material can be covered with this format.

  • You want to test different levels of learning.

  • You have little time for scoring.

  • You are not interested in evaluating how well a test taker can formulate a correct answer.

  • You have a clear idea of which material is important and which material is less important.

  • You have a large number of test takers.

 

Guidelines for Using Essay Test Items  

It is generally best to use essay items when:  

  • You want to evaluate a persons ability to formulate a correct answer.

  • You want to assess a peoples ability to express themselves in writing and writing is an important aspect of the job.

  • You have time to score the essay items thoroughly.

  • You feel more confident about your ability to read written answers critically than to construct effective multiple-choice items.

  • You want to test a persons ability to apply concepts and information to a new situation.

  • You have a clear idea of the most important information and concepts that should be tested.  

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