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Take the test and consider the appropriateness of its format and content.


Consider the test’s relationship to your learning outcomes.


Consider the depth of processing of the items (e.g., analyze items using Bloom’s taxonomy).


Consider the publication date and currency of the items.


How many scores are provided? Will these scores be useful? How?


Look at the test manual. Were test development procedures reasonable? What is the evidence for the test’s reliability and validity for the intended use?


If you will be using the norms, consider their relevance for your purpose.


Consider practicalities, e.g., timing, test proctoring, and test scoring requirements.


Verify that faculty are willing to act on results.

Published Test Strengths and Weaknesses

Potential Strengths

Potential Weaknesses

Can provide direct evidence of student mastery of learning outcomes.

They generally are carefully developed, highly reliable, professionally scored, and nationally normed.

They frequently provide a number of norm groups, such as norms for community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and comprehensive universities.

Online versions of tests are increasingly available, and some provide immediate scoring.  Some tests are available only online.  

Some publishers allow faculty to supplement tests with their own items, so tests can be adapted to better serve local needs.

Students may not take the test seriously if test results have no impact on their lives.

These tests are not useful as direct measures for program assessment if they do not align with local curricula and learning outcomes.

Test scores may reflect criteria that are too broad for meaningful assessment.

Most published tests rely heavily on multiple-choice items which often focus on specific facts, but program learning outcomes more often emphasize higher-level skills.

If the test does not reflect the learning outcomes that faculty value and the curricula that students experience, results are likely to be discounted and inconsequential.

Tests can be expensive.

The marginal gain from annual testing may be low.

Faculty may object to standardized exam scores on general principles, leading them to ignore results.

Ability to use online versions of the tests may be hampered by limited bandwidth available to the college.  

Locally-Developed Tests

Locally developed tests can be affective and fit local conditions, but are often time intensive for development and may be difficult to compare against, regional, U.S. or International norms.  

Common Test Item Formats

Item Type

Characteristics and Suggestions

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