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These items require students to fill-in-the-blank with appropriate terms or phrases. They appear to be best for testing vocabulary and basic knowledge, and they avoid giving students credit for guessing by requiring recall, rather than recognition. Scoring can be difficult if more than one answer can be correct.


Essay questions are very popular and can be used to assess higher-order thinking skills. They generally ask for explanations and justifications, rather than memorized lists. Key words in essay questions are summarize, evaluate, contrast, explain, describe, define, compare, discuss, criticize, justify, trace, interpret, prove, and illustrate (Moss & Holder, 1988).


Usually these questions are presented as two columns, and students are required to associate elements in column B with elements in column A. Such items are easy to score, but they are relatively difficult to construct and they seem best suited for testing knowledge of factual information, rather than deeper levels of understanding.


Multiple-choice questions are popular because they can measure many concepts in a short period of time, and they generally are better than other objective questions at assessing higher-order thinking. They are easy to score, and item banks associated with popular textbooks are often available. Writing good items takes time, and there is strong temptation to emphasize facts, rather than understanding.


True-false items are relatively easy to construct and grade, but they appear to be best at assessing factual knowledge, rather than deep understanding.

Locally-Developed Test Strengths and Weaknesses

Potential Strengths

Potential Weaknesses

Can provide direct evidence of student mastery of learning outcomes.

Appropriate mixes of essay and objective questions allow faculty to address various types of learning outcomes.

Students generally are motivated to display the extent of their learning.

If well-constructed, they are likely to have good validity.

Because local faculty write the exam, they are likely to be interested in results and willing to use them.

Can be integrated into routine faculty workloads.

The evaluation process should directly lead faculty into discussions of student learning, curriculum, pedagogy, and student support services.

These exams are likely to be less reliable than published exams.

Reliability and validity generally are unknown.

Creating and scoring exams takes time.

Traditional testing methods have been criticized for not being “authentic.”

Norms generally are not available.

Embedded Assignments and Course Activities

Embedded assignment and test items can be an effective technique to collect information across all campuses on equity of course and program delivery and consistency of grading.  

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