Item Analysis and Other Exam Design Principles

Exams are an essential tool that assesses various factors such as mastery of content, acquisition of knowledge and skills, among others.

In schools, most exams are used to assess how much students have learned within a given period. Tests are useful because it gives a teacher some insight as to how much the students have learned. Once the results are available, the teacher can determine whether they can move on to another topic or if more time is needed to discuss the subject matter with the class. 

Item Analysis

There is an art and science to creating and assessing exams that will help teachers identify learning gaps. One such way to do this is to conduct item analysis. When conducting item analysis, the teacher will closely evaluate answers to the exam questions and watch out for things such as patterns of error.

Conducting item analysis helps provide insight into the following: item difficulty, item discrimination, and item distractors.

·                      Item difficulty refers to the difficulty level of the questions. Were the questions too difficult? How many of the students were able to answer it correctly, and how many got it wrong? Note that if none of the students were able to answer a particular question, it lowers the exam’s reliability. If all students answered it correctly, it could provide insight into how much students know about the subject matter.

·                      Item discrimination refers to the act of looking into a particular exam question. Item discrimination can be done by comparing the number of total test scores against the number of correct answers. This should be done for groups that scored high and those that scored low on the exam.

·                      Item distractors are commonly used in multiple-choice questions. Distractors are strategically placed to test the knowledge of the student. Good distractors are not too obvious and force exam takers to think critically. If distractors are too obvious it can affect the ability to assess knowledge about the topic.

Why Conduct Item Analysis

It is important to conduct item analysis when checking tests to assess whether the exam was able to measure what it was supposed to measure. The exams and assessments are tools that bridge the gap between learning and teaching. As important as it is to be able to test students’ knowledge and skills, the test itself has to shed light on the students’ strengths and areas for improvement. Moving forward, the data collected from item analysis can help teachers design better exams.  

Conclusion Exam scores are not just supposed to separate students who pass or fail an exam. Through the scrutiny of the exam questions and scores, teachers can have insight into how much the students have learned.

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