assignment overview
 due date, points, formatting requirements
 what do multiple-choice items test?
 item elements: topics
 item elements: stem, key, distractors

overview: the extra credit assignment

Extra-credit assignments should help the instructor improve the course and should help the student master course material. This assignment does both. It provides me with potential test items (questions) that are written from a student perspective. This helps me think "outside the box" about course issues and helps me assess what people are learning in my course. Writing items is hard work, but rewards you in three ways. By writing items, you'll master course ideas, learn how tests are constructed, and possibly earn extra-credit points.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to try your hand at writing test questions or items for possible use in this course in future years. (No items submitted by current students will appear on the exams for this semester; sorry.) Items will not be automatically accepted; your items must fulfill the criteria below to earn extra credit. There will be no partial credit on any single item. You may submit as many items as you like, but the maximum achievable points per student is limited regardless of the number of items submitted. All items become my property after you submit them.

parameters: topics, formatting instruction, credit points

  • Topics: All course texts and major terms and issues.
  • Format: Write each item on a separate index card, with the key (correct answer) checked. Write your name at the top right-hand corner of the card.  Do not submit items that are inappropriately formatted (for example, typed on a single page, or emailed to me), because I cannot use them and hence cannot give you credit for them.
  • Evaluation criteria: Items must effectively test student learning by testing knowledge of major plot events and course terms and issues (see below).
  • Credit per item accepted: 3 percentage pts. per successful question added to one exam.
  • Maximum points per writer: 27 pts. per student per semester (Spring 2004).
Submission deadline: last day of classes, by 5 p.m. (no exceptions). You may turn in your items early.   Note: on days when time permits, may discuss item-writing at the end of class, so bring in-progress items with you every day. However, because this is an extra-credit assignment, I will not evaluate items before they're handed in or help you write items.

how to write items: a short guide
First, topics. What should items focus on? An effective multiple-choice item focuses on one major idea, term, or textual event. An item-writer must be able to figure out what "important" means in the context of the course. Think to yourself, "What is likely to be on the test?" Go through your notes and see what concepts have been discussed at length or repeatedly. Note terms and plot events that are crucial to students' understanding of course texts and class material. Review with other students, helping each other master information and ideas you may have missed or misunderstood.

Your information and the format of your items must be correct.  Check, double-check, and triple-check your items for accuracy.

Second, what skills do multiple-choice items test? A good item tests at least one of the following, ranked in ascending order of complexity and difficulty:

    . recall: simple recognition or remembering of facts and ideas
    . comprehension: restating or recognizing what has already been learned
    . synthesis: combining familiar ideas into an idea new to the learner
    . analysis: breaking ideas down into components; examining relationships
    . application: problem-solving, applying familiar ideas to unfamiliar situations
    . evaluation: judging against established standards
A well-written item requires people to use at least one and no more than two of these skills.

Third, what is an item, exactly? What are the elements of an item? An item has three elements:

    . the stem (a sentence or phrase posing a question or introducing a problem)
    . the key (the correct answer)
    . two or three distractors (possible answers)

1. When did detective fiction first become popular with readers? (stem)
    a. around 1750 (this is a distractor)
    b. around 1800 (this is a distractor)
    c. around 1850 (this is the key, or correct answer)
    d. around 1900 (this is a distractor)

The stem should be written first. State the problem concisely and completely. The stem can be a complete question ("What is the most frequently used type of question on college-level examinations?") or an incomplete statement ("The type of test question most frequently used on college-level examinations is"). You should avoid using negatives ("not," "never," etc.) in stems. As you go to write the options, remember that the key and distractors should be:

    . grammatically similar (phrasing should be uniform)
    . the same length (avoid making the key longer than the distractors)
    . short (most of the item's information should be in the stem)

The key should be written second. It is the best answer to the question. Make readers think carefully. The best answer should not be immediately obvious. Do not use combination keys ("both A and C") or "none of the above."

The distractors should be written last.   As you write your distractors, remember:

    . All distractors should seem like reasonable answers.  Don't make them too obvious, outlandish, or outrageous.  They should seem plausible.
    . At least two distractors should be nearly true and thus attractive to test-takers. (This allows the instructor to distinguish between those who really know the answer and those who are just guessing.)

When time permits, we'll discuss item-writing at the end of class, so bring your in-progress items with you to class. However: I will not evaluate items before they're handed in, or help individuals write items. No exceptions.

Check, double-check, and triple-check your items against these instructions and for accuracy.

©Lisa Jadwin, 1997-2008. All rights reserved.
Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2008.