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Tips on Constructing Tests

Suggestions on Constructing Multiple Choice Questions

Avoid making the correct option longer than the distracters. Some students may use this as a clue to the correct answer, without actually knowing the correct answer. If the options are numbers, dates, etc., list them in order from the smallest to largest and align the decimal points. When using incomplete statements, place the blank space at the end of the stem (question) versus the beginning. (This reduces the number of times the student must reread the question.)

Suggestions on Constructing Short Answer and Essay Questions

Provide clear grading criteria in the instructions. Leave the appropriate amount of space. A large space implies a long answer. Avoid asking why, how or what questions, which invite a wide array of answers. Instead, use descriptive verbs such as describe, classify, define, explain or illustrate.

Other Tips on Test Construction

Provide detailed, written instructions, and be very specific in identifying the tasks you want the students to perform. Put yourself in your students' place, particularly those students who struggle with tests, and read your instructions from their perspective. Or, have another instructor read for clarity. Assess information indicative of the material stressed in class, and avoid testing on trivial information. (According to learning theory, the act of remembering influences what learners will and will not remember.) To determine how much time the student will need to take the test, use the following guidelines:

  • thirty seconds per true/false item,
  • sixty seconds per multiple choice item,
  • thirty to fifty seconds per fill-in,
  • thirty to sixty seconds per matching,
  • two to five minutes per short answer item,
  • fifteen minutes per essay question,
  • five to ten minutes for students to review their work, or
  • allow triple the amount of time it takes you to complete the exam.

For more tips on testing go to

Best Practices for Designing and Grading Exams
Testing Techniques

Or, see the following books available in the CTE for checkout:

McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips. Lexington: Health, 1986. Print.

Ory, J.C., and K.E. Ryan. Tips for Improving Testing and Grading. Newbury Park: SAGE, 1993. Print.

Nilson, L.B. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Bolton: Anker, 1998. Print.

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