Six tips to increase content validity in competence tests and exams

Posted by John Kleeman

Content validity is one of the most important criteria on which to judge a test, exam or quiz. This blog post explains what content validity is, why it matters and how to increase it when using competence tests and exams within regulatory compliance and other work settings.

What is content validity?

An assessment has content validity if the content of the assessment matches what is being measured, i.e. it reflects the knowledge/skills required to do a job or demonstrate that the participant grasps course content sufficiently.

Content validity is often measured by having a group of subject matter experts (SMEs) verify that the test measures what it is supposed to measure.

Why does content validity matter?

If an assessment doesn’t have content validity, then the test isn’t actually testing what it seeks to, or it misses important aspects of job skills.

Would you want to fly in a plane, where the pilot knows how to take off but not land? Obviously not! Assessments for airline pilots take account all job functions including landing in emergency scenarios.

Similarly, if you are testing your employees to ensure competence for regulatory compliance purposes, or before you let them sell your products, you need to ensure the tests have content validity – that is to say they cover the job skills required.

Additionally to these common sense reasons, if you use an assessment without content validity to make decisions about people, you could face a lawsuit. See this blog post which describes a US lawsuit where a court ruled that because a policing test didn’t match the job skills, it couldn’t be used fairly for promotion purposes.

How can you increase content validity?

Here are some tips to get you started. For a deeper dive, Questionmark has several white papers that will help, and I also recommend Shrock & Coscarelli’s excellent book “Criterion-Referenced Test Development”.

  1. Conduct a job task analysis (JTA). A JTA is a survey which asks experts in the job role what tasks are important and how often they are done. A JTA gives you the information to define assessment topics in terms of what the job needs. Questionmark has a JTA question type which makes it easy to deliver and report on JTAs.
  2. Define the topics in the test before authoring. Use an item bank to store questions, and define the topics carefully before you start writing the questions. See Know what your questions are about before you deliver the test for some more reasoning on this.
  3. You can poll subject matter experts to check content validity for an existing test. If you have an existing assessment, and you need to check its content validity, get a panel of SMEs (experts) to rate each question as to whether it is  “essential,” “useful, but not essential,” or “not necessary” to the performance of what is being measured. The more SMEs who agree that items are essential, the higher the content validity. See Understanding Assessment Validity- Content Validity for a way to do this within Questionmark software.
  4. Use item analysis reporting. Item analysis reports flag questions which are don’t correlate well with the rest of the assessment. Questionmark has an easy to understand item analysis report which will flag potential questions for review. One of the reasons a question might get flagged is because participants who do well on other questions don’t do well on this question – this could indicate the question lacks content validity.
  5. Involve Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). It might sound obvious, but the more you involve SMEs in your assessment development, the more content validity you are likely to get. Use an assessment management system which is easy for busy SMEs to use, and involve SMEs in writing and reviewing questions.
  6. Review and update tests frequently. Skills required for jobs change quickly with changing technology and changing regulations.  Many workplace tests that were valid two years ago, are not valid today. Use an item bank with a search facility to manage your questions, and review and update or retire questions that are no longer relevant.

I hope this blog post reminds you why content validity matters and gives helpful tips to improve the content validity of your tests. If you are using a Learning Management System to create and deliver assessments, you may struggle to obtain and demonstrate content validity. If you want to see how Questionmark software can help manage your assessments, request a personalized demo today.

 

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