After years as the student, taking tests, it's finally your turn to be the one giving the tests! Ah, the joys of teaching. The only problem is, creating tests and quizzes isn't as easy as it looks from the other side of the desk. Writing objective multiple choice questions, true-or-false items, and matching exercises takes some finesse. On one hand, you don't want to give away the answers. On the other hand, you don't want the answer choices to be too difficult or confusing. Try these tips to fine-tune your test-making skills.

  • A multiple-choice answer set should include the correct answer expressed in specific terms, two choices that are clearly wrong, and one choice that could almost be correct. This encourages careful thinking and discrimination.

  • The matching portion of an objective test should include more answer choices than the number of items. This prevents using the simple process of elimination and challenges students to really know the material in order to pass the test. Moreover, when you include additional answer choices directly related to the knowledge or content tested, you can cover more ground in a shorter test. As students eliminate extraneous choices, they are still thinking about content.

  • On matching tasks, provide the definitions or descriptions in the left column, and the one- or two-word answers in the right column. That way, students don't get bogged down rereading lengthy items each time they search for a new match.

  • On true-or-false items, avoid writing statements made false by just the most minor of details. You are testing for overall understanding, not trying to trick students.

  • Encourage students to write notes on the items that seem confusing. Highly able students often read too much into an objective question. By explaining their thinking, students reveal knowledge and understanding and are less intimidated by the "test." You can reward them for correct thinking even when their answers aren't correct.

Other Ways to Check Understanding

Use oral and open-book quizzes. For example, have students consult reference materials on a particular topic, then demonstrate their knowledge through an oral quiz. Many teachers  

  • believe individual oral tests are more accurate and less threatening than paper-and-pencil tests.

  • Have students test each other on math facts, spelling skills, state capitals, and other factual knowledge. The payoffs? Students who are more relaxed and fewer papers to correct.

  • Use frequent small tests instead of fewer larger ones. This minimizes test anxiety, encourages small successes, and reveals problems sooner.

  • Observe students in practical, problem-solving situations. Students demonstrate many observable skills when they are passing out papers, collecting soup-can labels for educational supplies, finding information in the library or on a computer, tutoring a classmate, writing thank-you letters to class visitors, playing learning games, or taking care of classroom plants and pets. You could develop a checklist of observable skills and periodically assess each student.


This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway, © 2005, published by Scholastic.