Factors that make the test good, representative, and effective

What Makes a Good Test

What Makes a Good Test

01.05.2023

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Assessment serves as a crucial part of education as its major function is to measure learners' achievements and their level of proficiency. Tests are now the most widely used method of assessing knowledge and measuring improvement in learning. 

At the same time, there are voices against tests claiming they are usually of poor quality and are unlikely to assess the learners' knowledge accurately.

In this article, we are going to look at the types of assessment and the most common kinds of tests, their benefits, and more importantly, the features of quality tests and the general requirements for effective testing.

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Types of assessment

Assessment serves several purposes:

  • measuring the learners' performance and the progress they make in terms of the objectives of their studies;
  • diagnosing their strengths and weaknesses. 

Teachers mostly use two major types of assessment to evaluate the knowledge and progress of their students: formative and summative. 

  • Formative assessment focuses on the continuous testing of knowledge and skills. It is carried out all through the course and tests the progress. 
  • Summative assessment, on the other hand, seeks to assess what students have learned during some exact period of time and is conducted after the course has been completed. 

Types of tests

According to the function, tests fall into several categories, such as:

  • placement tests which are usually given by the educational establishment to assess the level of knowledge obtained by the new student to place them into the appropriate class.
  • diagnostic tests that stand for the set of assignments that are meant to see what the student’s current views on the topic are. It is not supposed to necessarily check the knowledge. It is designed to give the teacher an idea of what they are going to deal with.
  • proficiency tests are designed to assess the readiness of the individual for a certain position or opportunity and give feedback on the person’s general level of knowledge or skill in some areas.
  • achievement tests are usually held during the educational process and are meant to assess the level of knowledge and skills that were gained throughout the course.

With reference to the learning process, we are going to concentrate on achievement tests. They are connected to a particular course and check how successful the learners are at mastering the course material and achieving the course objectives. There are progress and final achievement tests. 

Progress tests belong to formative assessment. They take place throughout the course. Their aim is to follow the student's progress and pay attention to the most challenging points.

In contrast, final tests are carried out at the end of the course and can be administered by special examination boards or even by ministries of education. The goal here is usually summing up the course and seeing what the student has already learned, to which extent, and whether they are ready to continue their education.

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Advantages of tests

A well-designed and quality test is a great tool to obtain evidence of learners' performance and has certain advantages over other forms of assessment. The benefits are as follows:

  • the test will accurately evaluate the learners’ knowledge and progress; 
  • it is easy to administer, check and interpret the results;
  • it can be used several times;
  • it can affect the learning process positively and keep students motivated throughout the course.

Qualities of the test

Having outlined the advantages of tests, let us talk about the qualities that make a good test. 

Alignment 

In every test, it is important to always have a vision of where it comes out and what follows next. The test should be a part of a complex system that has to have a final aim. Before assigning the test, it is better to ask yourself why it is so necessary, and how students would benefit from completing it.

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Reliability 

Reliability implies that the same test can be administered in the same group of learners of the same ability at a different time and the results will be the same or very similar to the previous test. The more similar the results are, the more reliable the test is. 

There are several factors that may affect the reliability of your test. Among them are:

  • factors related to the test which include:

а) the length of the test. It matters whether the test is too long, too short, or of a reasonable length.

b) content of the test. As researchers prove, the narrower the topic is the better the reliability of the test is.

c) characteristics of the test like level of difficulty, clarity of expression, and the accuracy of the questions.

d) the ambiguity which only confuses even the best students of the group.

  • factors related to the testee like:

a) heterogeneity of the group which is likely to increase the spread of scores.

b) test wiseness of the student which means the knowledge of the format. If the students don’t have the same test wiseness or similar backgrounds of test taking, it leads to some measurement errors and a reduction of reliability.

c) the motivation of students which is as simple as it sounds. If the student doesn't want to take the test, they won’t show their potential best result.

  • such factors related to the testing procedure as:

a) time limits of the test. Scores which are gained under pressure are likely to be not representative.

b) available cheating opportunities that ruin the whole concept of assessment.

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Validity 

Validity means that the test measures what it is intended to measure. In other words, the material tested should include the vocabulary or grammar that the learners have studied. What is more, the types of tasks should be appropriate to measure this material. For instance, if there is a task that checks the writing skill, it should include actual writing. 

Objectivity 

Objectivity deals with the fact that the evaluation of the test should be carried out without a subjective personal judgment, only on the result of the learners' performance.

Administration 

Good administration implies that the test is cost- and time-effective and can be conducted with clear and uniform guidelines. Sometimes even the easiness of the administration procedure may affect the results of the testee negatively.

Other points to consider

Apart from the key characteristics of the test, we find it essential to mention some other essential points which can make the assessment effective.

Make sure you warn your students about the test in advance. Very often a test, especially a final one, is high-stakes and requires thorough preparation and even some psychological readiness. 

Therefore, when a test is carried out all of a sudden, learners may have a high affective filter. It is the imaginary psychological wall or barrier that can block the mental processes and prevent the learners from successful language learning or production. This filter is usually high when the level of anxiety, embarrassment, or fear rises. 

Thus, to avoid unnecessary stress during the test, teachers should inform their students about the test in advance. 

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Consider weighting of the points in the test. If you develop the test by yourself or adapt it, it is important to consider awarding a relevant number of points for various tasks. 

In the test, there may be some tasks that require more effort from the learners. It means that their contribution to the overall score of the test should be higher, therefore, these tasks should be worth more points. 

In other words, the more complicated the task is and the more mental effort it requires, the more points the correct answer should account for. 

Familiarizing the learners with the criteria. In the test, there may be subjective tasks, for instance, writing or speaking ones which are checked with the help of the criteria, such as content, register, grammar range, etc. 

Make sure your learners are familiar with them and take them into consideration while completing the tasks. It will have a positive result on the test outcome, will reduce the affective filter, and will boost learners’ competency. 

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Conclusion

As you can see, there are so many factors that make the test good, representative, and effective. At the same time, as always, everything takes effort, studying, and trying, so we hope that this article has been helpful with at least two of the points.

Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova

    Author

    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner

  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & IELTS

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