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How to Write a Test Question in Training

Posted by Langevin Team on 8/10/15 4:00 AM
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Training has taken its cues from education for decades. However, the focus on lecture has been evolving to more activity-based learning. The theater-style seating has given way to groups or pods of participants. Even with these positive changes, there is one practice in education that requires some careful planning to be avoided in training. The trap of teaching to the test creates great test-takers, but may not create employees who can perform their jobs as expected after training.


Avoiding this trap is especially difficult when conducting regulatory or compliance training. Applying the following three techniques to your instructional design will help you write questions that prepare your employees for the work ahead while also assuring their success when they are presented with a written assessment.


1.  Keep the quantity of choices consistent

Multiple choice questions are a valid test of an employee's knowledge. When using a multiple choice question, if you use options A, B, C, and D for one question, using four options for every question will keep your results more consistent by allowing for the same percentage of accuracy on all questions.


2.  Randomize the position of the correct answer

When I was in school, we used the little bubble sheets where you filled in your answer by shading the corresponding oval on the sheet with a number 2 pencil. Some instructors made patterns using the correct answer to form a design or spell words. The success of our employees, and ultimately our companies, is at stake. We don't need clever testing games. Rather we want valid results in the classroom and on the job.

To randomize the correct answers, shuffle four playing cards, and then draw one for the position of the correct answer. For example, Ace=A, 2=B, 3=C, and 4=D. Then shuffle all four again, and draw a new card for the next question. If you'd rather use dice, Pathfinder (the newer version of Dungeons & Dragons) has a triangular 4-sided die that could be used instead.


3.  Create relevant wrong answers

So often, when writing a test question, coming up with incorrect answers (called "Distracters") is a tough task. To simplify this obstacle, consult your subject-matter experts (SMEs) during the instructional design process to find out where employees typically make a misstep in a procedure. Then formulate your question as follows:

"After completing step 1," (using the actual step of course) "which step must be completed next?"

Then list the correct answer among three other incorrect answers that are realistic. Use actual mistakes employees have made based on the information you gather from your SMEs. There is a bonus to using this approach. Your question actually becomes an application question rather than a fact-based knowledge question. This subtle difference will help your employees process what they are learning by thinking about what they will do rather than what they will know.


Using these techniques will create valid tests while preparing your employees for the work ahead. When training, our goal is improved employee performance. The results of these valid non-performance tests (written assessments) can help create success on the job.


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