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Why Writing Effective Test Items Is A Challenge

It is not easy to construct a good test to measure what you want. Writing good effective test items is a difficult job as it needs much practice and experience. These items must achieve many things to be considered good ones. The following are some.

Functions of the Test

Measuring achievement 

A test may be used to measure students’ achievement of what has been taught. Students like to know how much they have achieved, to what extent they have achieved stated learning objectives and where they stand among their classmates. In addition, teachers usually give tests to measure their students’ progress and therefore how successful the teaching has been.

Motivating Students to Study

Tests are probably the only encouragement for students to work hard. In fact, the majority of our students don’t study unless a test is announced. So, tests should be constructed to encourage students to take their learning seriously. The student’s result may urge him to compete with others. A low mark could be a motivation for him to study hard. On the other hand, a high score makes him feel satisfied. As it is said” success leads to further success.

Diagnosing Problems

We usually need to diagnose problems and difficulties in handling functions, notions, and concepts involving in the language course. So, tests should be designed to find out students’ weaknesses. As a result, remedial work could be prepared to treat such weakness.

Encouraging Self-Evaluation

Tests should be useful for both teachers and students to evaluate their own work: learning for the students and teaching for the teacher. The feedback got from the test should help them a lot to modify their work and improve it.

Promoting Students

Tests are sometimes designed to determine which students are to be promoted from a grade to a higher one. So, the test builder should consider that and write the test items that enable educators to take the right decision related to student promotion.

Providing Information to Parents

Tests should provide parents with information about their children’s levels. For example, how they are progressing, the areas of weaknesses and strengths, and the kind of help they need.

In addition to the previous functions that the test builder should consider achieving when writing the test items, he also should be well aware of the kind of test he constructs. The kind of test affects the nature of the test items. The following are the common test kinds to consider.

Types of the Test

Subjective Tests:

These tests take the form of writing sentences, paragraphs or essays. The correctness of answers to these tests is, in many cases, subjective to the marker’s opinion. In subjective tests, it usually happens that there are different scores for the same question. But, there are some guidelines that should be taken into account to reduce subjectivity when grading this kind of test.

Objective Tests:

The grading of this test is independent of the person marking the tests because these tests have definite answers, which have no room for subjectivity in grading such as multiple choice, true-false, and matching tests.

Achievement Tests

These are designed to measure students’ achievement. They measure the student’s mastery of what should have been taught.

Diagnostic Tests

These tests are designed to diagnose the problems or weaknesses students may encounter. That can help the teacher an effective and suitable remedial plan.

Proficiency Tests

Such tests can be used to measure how suitable a candidate will be for performing a certain task or following a specific course such as aptitude tests that predict probable success or failure in certain areas of language study.

Norm-Referenced Tests

Such tests place the student in rank order. i.e. it tells the examiner how a student has performed compared with his classmates.

Criterion-Referenced Tests

These tests tell the examiner whether the student has achieved the desired objectives or not, regardless of other students’ standards. Such tests are usually used during the school year.

Moreover, it is not enough to consider the functions and the kind of test when deciding to write a test but also you should realize the main characteristics of a good test which are as follows.

Characteristics of a Good Test


A valid test measures what it ought to be tested. For example, a test that is designed to measure control of grammar becomes invalid if it contains difficult vocabulary.


A reliable test should provide consistency in measuring the items being evaluated. In other words, if the same test is given twice to the same students, it should produce almost the same results.


A practical test ought to be easy to administer and scored without wasting too much time or effort. Put differently, a test is considered impractical if it is too expensive or needs many hours for the student to complete and many hours for the teacher to prepare and correct.


A comprehensive test should cover all the items that have been taught. This test helps the teacher to observe accurately the extent of students’ knowledge.


The test is relevant when it measures reasonably the desired objectives.


A discriminative test should distinguish between different levels of students. For example, if all students score between 80% and 90 % on a certain test, this means that the test failed to show the individual differences among the students probably because the questions were very easy. Similarly, if all students score between 20% and 30 %, this will be an indication that the questions were very difficult.

Suitable for Average Student

The questions must neither be too hard nor too easy. The questions should progress from easy to difficult so as to reduce stress and tension, especially on the part of the weak students.


It is necessary that the questions should be clear so that the students can comprehend exactly what the teacher wants them to do.


A well-balanced test should examine both linguistic and communicative competence. In other words, the items of the test must evaluate the students’ exact mastery of language regarding accuracy and appropriateness.


The language of the test should emphasize everyday interaction.

In Short

As you see, as a teacher responsible for making a test, you need effort and time to construct effective test items suitable for the kind of test you make, characterized by the main qualities of the good test and realizing effectively the desired functions of the test.

Doing this job undoubtedly requires the test builders to be well aware of step-by-step instructions to go deeper, further, and faster toward making a success in preparing effective classroom exams with ease and comfort.

With this challenge in mind, I’ve created:

“Writing Effective Test Items: The Definitive Guide”.

This guide is a valuable resource for any teacher interested in constructing effective test items that can capture effectively what a student knows.

Moreover, with this definitive guide, teachers will be able to avoid any pitfalls in the testing of their students.

It is the comprehensive guide that I personally wish someone would have shared with me when I first started to make classroom tests for my students.

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