Problems and Fixes — Item Writing Guide, Part 4

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In part 3 of this series on item writing, we began taking a look at some “problem questions” to figure out what was wrong with them and how to make them better. Let’s continue doing that.iwg 1

This is the ol’ “grammar give-away” problem. The stimulus ends in “a”, indicating that the answer begins with a consonant (or at least * should* begin with a consonant, if the assessment author is following standard rules of grammar). There’s only one choice that begins with a consonant, so the participant doesn’t need to know the answer – they just need to know a little grammar.

There are a couple of ways to fix this. One would be to end the stimulus with “a/an”. Another way would be to move the indefinite article (yes, I had to look that up) into the choice: an apple, a banana, an orange, and an eggplant.

Also be sure not to mix a singular in the stimulus with plurals in the choices, or vice versa. And if you’re writing questions in gender-specific languages like Spanish, French, or Italian, be sure to account for masculine and feminine definite and indefinite articles.

This question has a couple of things wrong with it:

iwg 2The first problem is pretty obvious. One choice is significantly longer than the other three. Typically this would mean that choice (b) is the correct answer, and in this case, that would be true.

Can you spot the other problem? It’s a little more subtle. The stimulus uses an important word – “strings” – and only the correct answer uses this word (in its singular form) as well. Without knowing anything about bass guitars, most people would answer this question correctly simply by noticing the use of the same important word in both the stimulus and one of the choices.

To fix this question, the second choice should be changed to something like “Set the intonation.” At that point the length of the correct choice is about the same as the length of the other choices, and the important word “string(s)” is not being used.

Please feel free to add your comments to this discussion – the more, the merrier! In our next installment, we’ll diagnose two more problems, and then wrap things up with a little summary.

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