Characteristics of Good Test Questions Essay Questions

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Characteristics of Good Test Questions

Essay Questions

Here is the list of characteristics that you should follow when either writing or selecting essay questions for use in Stage 2 of any curriculum planning. Examples of these characteristics and why they are important will be discussed in class.
In science class, during a timed mastery type test restricted response essay questions are best. They are harder to write, but much easier to score in a way that is considered fair by the majority or students. Restricted response questions can be written to require a short one word or a short phrase. However, this is not a good use of this type of question, it would be better to use multiple choice type questions.
Restricted response best use in when you want the student to provide a longer answer written in one to four sentences. These longer answers can then be scored in partial credit if needed. Problems in which a student is required to use (a) mathematical formula(s) and show their work is considered a restricted response essay question. The restricted response type essay question is great at testing some knowledge and most understandings.
In science, extended response essay questions as part of a timed mastery test are not the best to use. They are very hard to score. If you want to test students’ ability to provider longer explanations, use lab or field reports to assess this ability and understanding.
Restricted Response:

  • Content is usually limited by restricting the scope of the topic to be discussed

  • Form of student response is restricted by the question

  • Can be used in interpretive exercise (better because moves from selecting to supplying answer)

Extended Response:

Ability to measure complex student behaviors of: organization, integration, and evaluation.

  1. Measure complex learning outcomes that cannot be measured by other test types.

  2. Extended: shows students’ ability in integration and application of thinking and problem solving skills.


  1. Not good for assessing students’ writing skills

  2. Not easy to construct

  3. Scoring can be unreliable (but…)

  4. Amount of time to score is high

  5. Limited sampling: cannot ask a lot of questions if each requires a long answer

Guidelines for constructing essay questions:

  1. Restrict use of essay questions to those learning outcomes that cannot be satisfactorily measured by selective response items.

  2. Formulate questions that will call forth the behavior specified in the learning outcomes.

  3. Phrase each question so that the students’ task is clearly indicated.

  4. Indicate the approximate time limit for each question.

  5. Avoid the use of optional questions.

Guidelines for scoring essay questions:

  1. Prepare an outline of the expected answer in advance.

  2. Use the scoring method that is most appropriate (points or rating).

  3. Decide on provisions for handling factors that are irrelevant to the learning outcomes being measured (handwriting, spelling, sentence structure punctuation, neatness).

  4. Evaluate all answers to each question before going on to the next question.

  5. Evaluate all answers without looking at the students’ names.


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