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Tool: A test in need of revision

This tool and related ones were created by Janet Alleman, Professor, Michigan State University, and Michael Roessler, Teacher, Portland Middle School.

Many teachers—both new and experienced—are weak at writing traditional assessments. This exercise should help you sharpen your test-writing skills.

Suppose that the test below was written for 7th-grade students who had just completed a geography unit on Asia. Read the test carefully and see what you think of it. Then take out your pen and mark any strengths and weaknesses that you observe. Circle the numbers of any items that you think should be eliminated or revised. Doing this with your mentor or mentee could be a low stress way of beginning a conversation about assessment. When you feel more comfortable, you could take a look at an assessment created by one of you.

Test on Asia 

Name _________________________

Circle the T for true or the F for false.

  1. T F Asia is a wet continent.
  2. T F Because of the tectonic plates, much of Asia is subject to occasional earthquakes and these earthquakes have a powerful effect on the Asian outlook on life.
  3. T F Many Asian countries are archipelagoes.
  4. T F Over 120 million people live in Japan.
  5. T F Over 10 million people live in China.
  6. T F Unlike the other Asian countries, Japan lacks large deposits of iron and coal and so the Japanese have had to build their top-ranked industrial empire without the help of some key resources.
  7. T F As in America, Japanese men are more interesting to talk to than Japanese women.
  8. T F The residents of Hong Kong experienced trepidation when contemplating the impending Chinese takeover of their colony.
  9. T F China does not have fewer people than Taiwan.
  10. Southeastern China suffers from the problem of _______________.
  11. To get from Tokyo to Pyongyang, one must travel ________________.
  12. In order to decrease _______________, Asian farmers often build _______________ for planting on a _______________.
  13. Because of the ____________, the movement of air masses is blocked, thereby keeping the cold air of central Asia out of India and the heavy rainfall of northern India out of central Asia.

  14. Place the correct letter in each of the spaces on the left.

____ 1. Manila

a. Capital of India

____ 2. Woman who wrote The Good Earth

b. Capital of the Philippines

____ 3. New Delhi

c. Beijing

____ 4. land surrounded by water

d. Pearl S. Buck

____ 5. the capital of China

e. island

____ 6. seasonal winds

f. monsoons

15. Communists are
            a. people who believe that religious leaders should govern.
            b. people who believe that the wealthy should govern.
            c. people who believe that the workers should govern.

16. The people of China
            a. eat rice at least once a day.
            b. feel somewhat crowded.
            c. live near the people of South Korea.
            d. all of the above
            e. none of the above
            f. b and c are true and a is sometimes true.
            g. b and c are true and a is never true.

17. If you, a studious young geographer, were to compare northern China to southern China, you would always find that
            a. the latter is dryer than the former.
            b. the latter is wetter than the former.
            c. the ladder has more rungs than the former (ha! ha!).
            d. the latter has more rice-eaters than the former has wheat-eaters.

18. Over 120 million people live in Japan. This means that
            a. Japan is more crowded than China.
            b. less crowded than China.
            c. more or less equal to the crowding in China.

Your reaction

How did you react to this sample test? Hopefully, you found it somewhat disappointing!

What we have tried to do here is to create a test that incorporates some of the most common mistakes that teachers make when they construct exams. These errors include spelling mistakes, confusing vocabulary, offensive test items and poorly constructed items. Although many of these errors are exaggerated for effect here, you can find similar mistakes in many teacher-made tests.
In addition to having many poorly constructed items, the test above does not address the knowledge, skills and understandings called for by most current curriculum frameworks. Instead, it asks students to recall obscure facts, untangle confusing questions, infer missing directions and make guesses about what the teacher is thinking. If you would like more support in revising this test, you can click on the tools below. You can also use these tools to evaluate and write assessments for your own classroom.

Tool: Test-writing checklist can help you think broadly about designing a quality assessment that meets your instructional goals.

Tool: Writing good true-false items
Tool: Writing good multiple-choice items
Tool: Writing good matching questions
Tool: Writing good fill-in-the-blank items