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Vol. 1, No. 16      October 4, 2005    

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Today's Tip
Evaluating Learner Performance

DSA would like to thank Dr. Barbara Martin for contributing this month’s tip on Evaluating Learner Performance. Dr. Martin will be teaching more about this subject at DSA’s The Criterion Referenced Testing Workshop in San Francisco.

Did you know that the savvy test-taker can pass most multiple choice tests written by novice test-writers by either selecting response choice “c” or the longest response? It’s true. Novice test-writers overuse response “c” and they also write longer correct answers because they provide more detail in the correct response. Incorrect responses are often less detailed and shorter. Check a few of your own self-made tests to see if you have overused response choice “c” and if you have longer correct answers.

Multiple choice tests are the favorite type of test for many training programs because they allow course developers to test large amounts of content in a relatively short timeframe. They can also be machine scored. However, good multiple choice items are difficult to write. Novice test writers often cue learners to the correct answer without intending to do so. Some of the most common ways to cue learners are:

  • Using grammatical cues in the stem, e.g., singular or plural words, “a” or “an”
  • Having the correct response longer or shorter than the others
  • Overusing one response location for the correct answer
  • Using “all of the above” or “none of the above”
  • Writing response choices that are not plausible

The first four bullets address “format” guidelines for multiple choice items, while the last bullet addresses a “content” guideline. The format guidelines are relatively easy to apply once you understand them. However, making all the response choices plausible is much more difficult. It is important to remember that anytime a test-writer uses a response that is not plausible, e.g., the Easter Bunny or something that would never be chosen as a correct response, the test-taker is being cued that this response is incorrect. You are giving the learner a freebie. Just think, if one of the four responses is not plausible, the test-taker only has to choose between three possible answers. This gives the test-taker a 33% chance of guessing the correct answer! This is good if you are the test-taker; bad if you are trying to get an accurate account of what the learner knows.

Multiple choice items and tests are a great way to evaluate learner knowledge and skills providing you are not giving away the answer by writing poor test items. If you want to evaluate learners’ performance rather than knowledge, a better strategy is to use a checklist. We will address checklists in a future Tips Newsletter.

Until next time,

Darryl

Dr. Peter HonebeinP.S. Dr. Barbara Martin is an active DSA associate and teaches The Instructional Developer Workshop, The Course Developer Workshop, and The Criterion Referenced Testing Workshop. She has written many articles and an award winning book on the Cognitive Learning Domain.

Article 2005 Darryl L. Sink & Associates, Inc.

Learning and Performance Tips

Welcome to Learning and Performance Tips
, a DSA newsletter for Instructional Designers and Performance Consultants. Each issue will include at least one proven tip to help you get the most out of your development and consulting efforts.

Did you miss out on a past issue? For access to all tips newsletters, send your top "Tip" to jane@dsink.com.

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Copyright, Darryl L. Sink & Associates, Inc.
Monterey, California

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