It probably isn't as easy as you thought it would be. You have the course content in front of you, but that doesn’t mean you can craft meaningful questions that accurately gauge learning. There are several points to straighten out first: Do you need to test for knowledge or skill? What is a passing grade? What if people "fail"? What are the legal ramifications of giving tests in the workplace? You need to know what you’re testing, why you’re testing, and what you'll do with the information once you've tested. When in doubt: DO NOT TEST—that's a good fail-safe. Here are some others:
- No tricks. The idea is to challenge your learners, not trick them. If you didn't teach it in class, don't put it on the test. Forget "you should have read it, or know it already." If prerequisite knowledge is necessary, test for it before allowing employees to register for the course. State quiz questions the same way you stated them/taught them in class. If you're teaching the three characteristics of steel, don’t ask in your quiz question, "Which one of these is NOT a characteristic of steel?" "Null" answers are hard for most people. And more important, why reinforce the wrong answer?
- Just the facts. Leave out trivial information that only serves to confuse test-takers. Don't, for instance, present your learners with this mess: Bob and Ed left their office on K Street in Washington, D.C., at 4:45 p.m. to travel to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for a 9 p.m. flight. How far is the airport from their office? The times given have nothing to do with the answer you're seeking. Come to think of it, we don't even have to know Bob and Ed are leaving, do we?
- Prioritize. Figure out the most important points learners need to understand, and build the test around that material. The more important the information, the more test questions should be created for it.
- No new information. Don't present new information in test questions. The test-taker is in a search-and-retrieve mode. It isn't fair to ask him or her to deal with new information. Don't give them this: "Of the 14 types of steel, anodized steel is characterized by what forging process? If you didn’t teach that there are 14 types of steel, why introduce it now?
- Use key words. "Who," "what," "where," "when," "how," or "why" are effective ways to begin questions. "Who" triggers the respondent to look for a person or position; "what" triggers test-takers to look for a thing or process; "where" triggers them to look for a place or location; "when" triggers them to look for a date or period of time; and "why" signals them to look for reasoning. Do ask: "Who does Beowolf kill in
'Beowolf,' by what method, and why does he kill this person?"
- Avoid subjective responses. Never ask a question that elicits a subjective response. For instance: "How important is it that G69 reports are filed daily?" "Very important," "important," "unimportant," or "not at all important?" Why ask such a question? It can be assumed that it's important, otherwise you wouldn't have taught it in class, right? Try asking it this way instead: "To avoid getting buried in a mountain of paperwork, it's important to complete and file the G69 reports on what type of a basis." Then give them the choices of daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. There is no need to provide the rationale for filing the reports.
- Use scales wisely. When providing a "scale" of choices, make sure the scale starts and ends at distinct points. Don't ask whether a baby should be fed every 2 to 3 hours, every 3 to 4 hours, or every 4 to 5 hours. If the correct answer is every 3 hours, which response does the test-taker select? There are technically two correct answers. Instead, let them decide whether it's every 2 to 3 hours, every 4 to 5 hours, or every 6 to 7 hours.
- Give clear instructions. Do everything you can to ensure test-takers know what to do, when, and how to do it. If there's a time requirement, state it ("You must finish this section in 30 minutes."). If a tool or resource is allowed, state it ("You may use a calculator for questions 11-20."). And, tell them what they shouldn't do ("You may NOT use a calculator to complete this section. For each item in column 'A,' there is ONLY ONE correct answer in column 'B.' If you do not know an answer, it is better to guess than to leave it blank."). Read instructions out loud at the start of the test—even when they are clearly written on the test. That ensures everyone hears, sees, and interprets the directions the same way, and allows you to ask for questions about the questions before anyone begins.
- Equal weighting is easier. It's much easier to grade a test if all questions have the same value. But if you feel certain information is more critical than other information to on-the-job success, then you may choose to weight those items more heavily.
Dr. Nanette Miner is the president of The Training Doctor, LLC, and author of "The Accidental Trainer: A Reference Manual for the Small, Part-Time, or One-Person Training Department."