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Great Question!

There's an art to writing test items that work.

“You have to get inside a kid's head” to write a good test item, says Scott Marian, vice president of the National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment, a non-profit test-consulting firm that advises 15 states.

“It's a combination of a lot of subject knowledge and an understanding of kids,” agrees H. D. Hoover, principal author of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for some 40 years. “It's easiest to write questions for graduate students, and the hardest would be for kindergarten children. It's an art.”

In questions on a reading passage, Hoover says, “You shouldn't use a single word from the passage, so they can't just match words. See whether they understood it.” I

n a good multiple-choice item, the three wrong answers are very important, Marian says. They can't be obvious. Wrong choices should represent common misconceptions so that the answer will show whether the child really understands the material. And of course, every multiple-choice question has to have one and only one right answer-otherwise, that question could cost the company a lot of money and embarrassment.