Clip these competency item writing reminders

Everyone who has ever taken a high school or college test has had some complaints about how the test was written so poorly that no one could have understood what it was the teacher wanted them to know.

Those complaints weren’t simply sour grapes over a failing grade. Many tests are poorly written because the instructor or test-writer hasn’t taken the time to make sure the test items were properly written.

Marilyn Hanchett, RN, MA, CPHQ, director of performance improvement for Express Scripts Infusion Services in Maryland Heights, MO, offers these suggestions for writing fair and relevant competency test questions:

• For each item:

— expose the item to expert review;

— use correct grammar;

— avoid irrelevant sources of difficulty;

— use an efficient format;

— eliminate irrelevant clues.

• For the stem (statement description):

—use clear and simple language;

— avoid technical or difficult vocabulary;

— present a single, clearly formulated problem;

— avoid negative wording;

— avoid questions relating to definitions;

— put as much wording as possible into the stem;

— avoid "window dressing"

— include all of the information or qualifications needed to choose the right answer.

• For options and distractors:

— select and develop the distractors with care;

— make certain that the key is correct AND clearly the best;

— make the distractors attractive to the uninformed;

— arrange the responses in a logical order;

— do not use "all of the above" or "none of the above"

— make the distractors independent;

— make all options grammatically correct and parallel.