Frequently I’m hired to revise an existing textbook supplement, often a test bank. This occurs when a new edition of the textbook is issued and test questions have to added, deleted, or edited to reflect changes between the new and old edition.
Now many of these existing test banks (also called test-item files) are in good shape. However, as I’ve written here before, some are not.
The Most Common Problem with Test Bank Revisions…
Well, I’ve seen a lot of problems in those few test banks that really have issues, including many that I discuss in detail in my post about “How to Write Multiple-Choice Questions.”
However, the most common one I see is…
Too many questions that cover material from the early part of the textbook.
Why This Problem with Test Bank Revisions?
First, the writer may not have done the basic math to figure out the average number of test questions per page.
Here’s how you do it. Simply count the number of pages with actual text (exclude the intro to the chapter and also the end matter at the end of the chapter, usually a summary, key terms, references, suggested readings and websites, etc.) and divide that number into the total number of that type of question per chapter. Example: the chapter has 25 pages of testable text and you need to write 30 multiple-choice questions per chapter, so you need to average 1.2 questions per page of text.
Second, the writer starts at the beginning of the chapter and thinks of lots of items to write about the material in those first pages. Concerned that he may have difficulty coming up with items for the later material, he takes what he can get. This necessarily means the later material gets short shrift.
How to Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen to Your Test Bank
#1. For starters, be clear on what the average number of questions of a given type needs to be per page.
See above for what this means and how to calculate it.
#2. Be willing to write extra questions and then delete as necessary.
You can use this technique both to balance out the distribution of questions throughout the chapter and to eliminate those that aren’t top notch.
#3. Start with the last section (A head) of the chapter.
If you get your required number of questions there, you’ll feel more comfortable about not overdoing it on the early sections of the chapter. You can then move to the next-to-the-last A head and repeat the process, if necessary.
#4. Acknowledge that sometimes you will need to front-load a little bit, especially with multiple-choice questions.
With many textbooks, the material in the last section of the chapter analyzes the main concepts of the chapter, or is more theoretical or philosophical in nature. It can be difficult to write good multiple-choice questions on such material.
Since most test banks also include true-false, short-answer, and essay items, let yourself run a bit ahead with the multiple-choice and a bit behind with the other types. Then you can use those others at the end, especially the essay questions which are best for examining complex topics in depth.
If you’ve written or revised a test bank, you’ve had to deal with how to space out your questions and make sure you cover the important material adequately. Please share your experiences and thoughts with us in the comments section below…