Assessment types | Formative | Standardized |

Overview | Multiple choice items | True/False items | Matching items | Essay/Short-Answer Items| Guidelines

Standardized assessments are often referred to as paper/pencil or computer examinations. With various course management systems, typical standardized assessment strategies can be easily moved into the online environment.

Standardized assessment includes limited-choice questions and open-ended questions. “limited-choice” test questions require students to choose one or more given alternatives (multiple choice, true/false, matching), and “open-ended” questions require students to formulate their own answers (short answer, essay). Whether it is better to use open-ended or limited-choice test items depends on the circumstances and on the goals of the test. Each type of test has its own sets of strengths advantages and disadvantages.



Advantages - Multiple-choice items are considered to be among the most versatile of all item types. They can be used to test students' ability to recall facts as well as their understanding and ability to apply learning.

Disadvantages - Good multiple-choice items are difficult and time-consuming to construct. They may also appear too discriminating to students, especially when the alternatives are well constructed.


  • Use negatively stated items sparingly
  • Keep the number of alternatives at five or fewer
  • Randomly distribute correct responses among the alternative positions
  • Include as much of the item as possible in the stem so that alternatives can be kept brief
  • Be certain that all options are plausible responses to the stem
  • Try to make alternatives for an item approximately the same length
  • Use misconceptions students have displayed in class as the basis for incorrect alternatives

Advantages - True/false items are relatively easy to prepare and can cover more content than most other item types. They are easy to score accurately and quickly.

Disadvantages - They are very poor for diagnosing students' strengths and weaknesses since students have a 50/50 chance of guessing the correct answer. They do not discriminate between students
of varying ability as well as other types of questions.


  • Keep language as simple and clear as possible
  • Avoid taking statements verbatim from the text
  • Avoid the use of negatives, especially double negatives
  • Be certain that the statements used are entirely true or entirely false
  • Use precise terms rather than less precise terms
  • Use more false than true items, but do not exceed their use more than 15%

Advantages - Matching items are generally brief and they can also be used to have students discriminate among, and to apply concepts. They permit efficient use of space when there is a number of similar types of information to be tested. They are easy to score accurately and quickly.

Disadvantages - They are difficult to use to measure learning beyond factual knowledge. They are poor for diagnosing student strengths and weaknesses. They are difficult to construct, since parallel information is required.


  • Use only homogeneous material in a set of matching items
  • Be certain there are never multiple correct choices for one premise
  • Use no more than 15 items in one set
  • Provide more choices than premises to make "process-of-elimination" guessing less effective

Advantages - Short-answer and essay items allow expression of both breadth and depth of learning, and encourage originality, creativity, and divergent thinking. They are less time-consuming to prepare than any other item type.

Disadvantages - They test limited content learning and are not efficient for assessing knowledge of basic facts. They are difficult and time-consuming to score and are subject to biased and unreliable scoring.


  • Make essay questions comprehensive rather than focused on small units of content
  • Ask students to provide supporting evidence for claims and assertions
  • Provide clear directions about expectations
  • inform students in advance about the proportional value of each item in comparison to the total grade
  • Give students some guidelines on how much time to use on each question, as well as the desired length and format of the response


General guidelines for creating standardized assessments:

  • Determine which types of items are best for the testing situation, and then write them
  • Write explicit directions for the test sections indicating credit on each section
  • Organize response choices in alphabetic, chronological, or numerical sequences to avoid patterns of response
  • Items written for each objective should represent the emphasis placed on them during instruction
  • Ask an outside reviewer available to critique the test for content, difficulty level, and length
  • Review the final product before posting