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The Test of a Good Test

Tests—you never liked them as a student, and you may like them less as a teacher. To help simplify the test-writing process, take a look at our Test-Writing Guide.

Test-Writing Tips by Grade Level

Whether you are a new or experienced home school parent, these test-writing tips can be useful:

In general

  • Write items that have only one correct answer.
  • Do not provide clues to the correct answer.
  • Keep the same kind of questions on the same page.
  • Place easier questions at the beginning of the test to ease anxiety.
  • Write tests soon after the material has been taught so that the information and the way you presented it are clear in your mind.

In elementary grades

  • Give your child guidelines for writing his answers to short-answer questions.
  • Give a sample item to avoid confusion.

In upper levels

  • Be sure to allow adequate space for working math problems if the work is to be shown.
  • Be careful that questions do not show bias. For example, if a question is based on having prior knowledge of a sporting event, it could be biased against a child who does not follow sports.
  • Test for more than factual knowledge. Test for comprehension and application, and, when appropriate, test for inference and evaluation.

Test-Writing Tips by Question Type

True or False

  • Statements should be written so that the answer is not blatantly true or blatantly false.
  • There should be only one concept per statement.
  • Do not take a true statement and add “not” to make it a false statement.
  • Avoid long, complex, and involved statements.


  • Questions should assess ability to reason, discriminate, interpret, analyze, infer, and solve problems.
  • Questions should be simple, not tricky and ambiguous.
  • Each test item should be independent: the answer to one question should not be given in another question.


  • The matching section must have two parallel lists of words or phrases (premises and responses) that require the student to find the correct match.
  • There may be more responses than premises.
  • Both sections should be placed on the same page. For example, putting part of the matching section on page 2 and the rest on page 3 can confuse your child.

Short Answer

  • Questions must require the child to supply the answer and not just recognize it.
  • Short answers are best for assessing factual knowledge and comprehension.
  • The blanks should all be the same length so as not to give a clue to the answer.
  • Make allowances for unexpected but reasonable answers.


  • Essays are most useful in assessing higher level thinking skills.
  • Ask your child to recall, add, apply, explain, or analyze information about a stated idea.
  • Be sure that essay test questions are explicit, concise, and clear.
  • Make sure that your child has a clear understanding of the ground rules and the criteria that will be used for grading.
  • Plan and organize each essay question and decide what points you are looking for in the question.
  • Prepare the evaluation-scoring key in advance. Some of the elements might be organization, communication, clarity, word choice, and mechanics.
  • Set guidelines, such as how many words and how much space may be used and what the time limit is.

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