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The Semiotics of Test Design: Conceptual Framework on Optimal Item Features in Educational Assessment Across Cultural Groups, Countries, and Languages

The Semiotics of Test Design: Conceptual Framework on Optimal Item Features in Educational Assessment Across Cultural Groups, Countries, and Languages

Tens of thousands of students a year prep for the SAT & ACT through programs Mike Bergin created or organized. After more than 25 years of intensive experience in the education industry, he’s done it all as a teacher, tutor, director, curriculum developer, blogger, podcaster, and best-selling author. Mike founded Chariot Learning in 2009 to deliver on the promise of what truly transformative individualized education can and should be. In instances where facts, formulas, or equations are tested, the key will be the only correct answer.

test item meaning

Many aptitude tests such as the General Aptitude Test Battery were constructed in this fashion. It’s a hall of mirrors, but we need to know what the Professor says it is so we can pass the test! In fact, the thing being tested is not always a SOFTWARE item, it can be part of a design document; IEEE should hire a rhetorical philosopher to clear this up. He avoids using non-functional words, or words that make no contribution towards the appropriate and correct choice of a response.

Standard Error of Measurement

In the two good examples, the indefinite article a and the number three are excluded. The absence of these two terms enables students to complete the item without the assistance of a hint or a clue. Prepare items that elicit the type of behavior you want to measure. Occasionally shuffle papers during the reading of answers to help avoid any systematic order effects (i.e., Sally’s “B” work always followed Jim’s “A” work thus it looked more like “C” work).

  • In that it samples the student’s ability to determine general, on-the-job cause and effect relationships, this is an analysis-level exercise.
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  • Avoid giving the student a choice among optional items as this greatly reduces the reliability of the test.
  • The test definitely needs to be supplemented by other measures (e.g., more tests) for grading..50 or belowQuestionable reliability.

In addition, test takers may not necessarily concern themselves with task authenticity in a test situation. Test familiarity may be the overriding factor affecting performance. Yet this has not necessarily been borne out by research (see Alderson & Lukmani, 1989). The truth is that what makes items difficult, sometimes defies the intuitions of the test constructors. A set of standardized questions, problems, or tasks designed to elicit responses for use in measuring the traits, capacities, or achievements of an individual.


For example, a test taker in a medical field may be asked to draw blood from a patient to show they can competently perform the task. Or a test taker wanting to become a chef may be asked to prepare a specific dish to ensure they can execute it properly. You’ve determined the purpose of your exam and identified the audience. Now it’s time to decide on the exam type and which item types to use that will be most appropriate to measure the skills of your test takers. The type of exam you choose depends on what you are trying to test and the kind of tool you are using to deliver your exam (note that you should always make sure the software you use to develop and deliver your exam is thoroughly vetted—here are some things to look for).

test item meaning

Memorization of obscure facts is much less important than comprehension of the concepts being taught. Trivia, on the other hand, should not be confused with “core” knowledge that is the foundation of a successful education. Examples of “core”, nontrivial knowledge include multiplication facts, common formulas, and common geographic names. 1 Raw scores are those scores which are computed by scoring answer sheets against a ScorePak® Key Sheet. Raw score names are EXAM1 through EXAM9, QUIZ1 through QUIZ9, MIDTRM1 through MIDTRM3, and FINAL.


In an study where an experimental group is contrasted with a control group, both groups are experiencing different types of situations. Persons can also be conceptualized as having aptitudes, that is, individual characteristics test item that affect response to treatments . In an ATI study researchers attempt to identify important individual characteristics or differences that would facilitate or hinder the usefulness of various treatments.

Quartararo: “My toughest time at Yamaha” – test items “useless” – Crash

Quartararo: “My toughest time at Yamaha” – test items “useless”.

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Even the inclusion of four or even five alternatives when research indicates that three choices will often do illustrates how norm-referenced assessment design might deviate from that of criterion-referenced assessments. An important notion in the field of social semiotics is that text and image are interconnected, in the sense that the user makes meaning based on using the textual and non-textual information in combination . Consistent with this notion, there is evidence that, in making sense of items accompanied by illustrations, examinees not only use the images to make sense of the text but also use the text of items to make sense of the images (Solano-Flores et al., 2014b). Also, evidence from international test comparisons suggests that, in making sense of items, examinees from high-ranking countries have a stronger tendency than examinees from low-ranking countries to cognitively integrate text and image (Solano-Flores et al., 2016). This evidence speaks to the importance of addressing the multiple ways in which disciplinary knowledge is represented throughout the entire process of test development.


For example, serious skaters who wish to participate in figure skating competitions in the United States must pass official U.S. When analyzed in the context of language texting in the naturalization processes, the ideology can be found from two distinct but nearly related points. One refers to the construction and deconstruction of the nation’s constitutive elements that makes their own identity, while the second has a more restricted view of the notion of specific language and ideologies that may served in a specific purpose.

test item meaning

The true-false item is an adequate means for making this determination. In this comprehension-level item, the student is expected to understand a continuation in a trend of data. Structurally, the item clearly specifies this expectation with a single and consistent thought. Knowing that understanding continuations in trends of data is a comprehension skill, you can use the true-false item to determine whether your student can comprehend the sequence of presidential elections. You can use the true-false item to determine whether your student understands that the same number may have different forms. Terse and understandable, this item tests the student’s acquisition of a memory-level, but important fact.

Suggestions for Scoring Essay Items

This paper offers a conceptual framework on test design from the perspective of social semiotics. Items are defined as arrangements of features intended to represent information, convey meaning, and capture information on the examinees’ knowledge or skills on a given content. Approaches to examining cultural bias in items tend to focus on the ways in which, due to cultural differences, the characteristics of items may prevent students from properly understanding the content of items. More specifically, in the absence of a conceptual framework on semiotic test design, it is difficult to establish the set of item features that are likely to minimize cultural bias.

This conceptual framework classifies item semiotic resources into six types, summarized in Table 1. Also, the six categories and types of semiotic resources discussed should not be regarded as mutually exclusive. For the sake of simplicity, the examples provided can be viewed as basic semiotic resources—those that, in the context of design, act as building blocks of more complex semiotic resources. Thus, even seemingly simple item features may need to be carefully designed if cultural bias is to be effectively minimized. Unfortunately, the impact on student performance of item features is yet to be investigated with this level of detail and, with some exceptions (e.g., Solano-Flores et al., 2014a), assessment programs have not paid attention to their systematic design. A wealth of evidence speaks to the influence of different item features on the examinees’ performance on tests.

Test item definition

Even minimal aspects of language use may constitute important influences that shape examinees’ interpretations of test items. For example, there is evidence that subtle variations on the ways in which items are worded can make a difference in the ways in which students interpret items . Also, the misalignment between the textual features of items in an international test and the textual features of items in national examinations (Anagnostopoulou et al., 2013) has been documented. Potentially, such misalignment could unfairly increase the difficulty of items in international tests. Some countries such as the United Kingdom and France require all their secondary school students to take a standardized test on individual subjects such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education and Baccalauréat respectively as a requirement for graduation. These tests are used primarily to assess a student’s proficiency in specific subjects such as mathematics, science, or literature.



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