Essay test item analysis

The key to taking advantage of these strengths, however, is construction of good multiple choice items.


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A multiple choice item consists of a problem, known as the stem, and a list of suggested solutions, known as alternatives. The alternatives consist of one correct or best alternative, which is the answer, and incorrect or inferior alternatives, known as distractors. The stem should be meaningful by itself and should present a definite problem. A stem that presents a definite problem allows a focus on the learning outcome. The stem should not contain irrelevant material , which can decrease the reliability and the validity of the test scores Haldyna and Downing The stem should be negatively stated only when significant learning outcomes require it.

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Students often have difficulty understanding items with negative phrasing Rodriguez If a significant learning outcome requires negative phrasing, such as identification of dangerous laboratory or clinical practices, the negative element should be emphasized with italics or capitalization. The stem should be a question or a partial sentence. A question stem is preferable because it allows the student to focus on answering the question rather than holding the partial sentence in working memory and sequentially completing it with each alternative Statman The cognitive load is increased when the stem is constructed with an initial or interior blank, so this construction should be avoided.

All alternatives should be plausible. The function of the incorrect alternatives is to serve as distractors,which should be selected by students who did not achieve the learning outcome but ignored by students who did achieve the learning outcome.

How do I perform an analysis of a test completed by students?

Common student errors provide the best source of distractors. Alternatives should be stated clearly and concisely. Alternatives should be mutually exclusive. Alternatives should be homogenous in content.

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Alternatives that are heterogeneous in content can provide cues to student about the correct answer. Alternatives should be free from clues about which response is correct.


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Sophisticated test-takers are alert to inadvertent clues to the correct answer, such differences in grammar, length, formatting, and language choice in the alternatives. In either case, students can use partial knowledge to arrive at a correct answer. The alternatives should be presented in a logical order e. The number of alternatives can vary among items as long as all alternatives are plausible. Plausible alternatives serve as functional distractors, which are those chosen by students that have not achieved the objective but ignored by students that have achieved the objective.


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  • There is little difference in difficulty, discrimination, and test score reliability among items containing two, three, and four distractors. Avoid complex multiple choice items , in which some or all of the alternatives consist of different combinations of options.

    Creating and Scoring Essay Tests

    Keep the specific content of items independent of one another. Essentials of Educational Measurement. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall; Design, format, validity and reliability of multiple choice questions for use in nursing research and education.

    Collegian ; Faculty development on item writing substantially improves item quality. An assessment of functioning and non-functioning distractors in multiple-choice questions: A descriptive analysis.

    Item Analysis Part 4: Calculating Item Discrimination

    BMC Med Educ ; The levels of difficulty and discrimination indices in type a multiple choice questions of pre-clinical semester 1 multidisciplinary summative tests. Int e-J Sci Med Educ ; Tarrant M, Ware J. Impact of item-writing flaws in multiple-choice questions on student achievement in high-stakes nursing assessments.

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    Med Educ ; Users Online: Item analysis of multiple choice questions of undergraduate pharmacology examinations in an International Medical School in India. Related articles Assessment item analysis multiple choice questions. Access Statistics. Materials and Me Article Tables. Sitemap What's New Feedback Disclaimer.

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