Sources of inspiration for compling questions

Sources of inspiration for compiling questions


Tests should examine the extent to which the student has mastered the objectives. As such, they must be intrinsically related to those objectives. However, these are often very broad in nature. For this reason, further specification is required in the form of detailed descriptions of what students are expected to know and to achieve once they have completed the unit of study. A test question is in fact the ultimate operationalization of an objective.

Subject matter

The subject matter should be a good reflection of the objectives. Accordingly, the subject matter is a good source of inspiration.

Post-graduate education

The content of post-graduate education programmes can generate ideas when compiling test questions. This not to say that you should test subject matter of follow-up programmes, of course, your questions should be directly related to the learning objectives of your course. So, this is purely about leads that may generate ideas.


Most educational programmes focus on a given profession. The activities characteristic of this future profession can provide ideas for composing questions provided, of course, that they are restricted to aspects of the profession that are dealt with in the unit of study. Here too, it is important to exercise caution. In particular, one must not lose sight of the level of mastery being addressed by the test.

Analysis of skills

There are teaching situations in which, in addition to a theoretical module, practicals or skill training courses have been scheduled that, in terms of their content, reflect the theoretical module. For example, a nursing programme includes a theoretical module entitled ‘Transport in the body’ and a training course entitled ‘Blood pressure measurement’. It is appropriate to include questions in the knowledge test about the knowledge that students need to have to be able to measure blood pressure.

Answers to questions used

The various answers given by students to open-ended questions can inspire new questions or distractors (these are the incorrect answer options). Units of study are often assessed by means of combination tests, which include both a closed-ended question section and an open-ended question section. When compiling multiple-choice questions, it is often difficult to find satisfactory distractors (see Chapter 6). When formulating distractors, past answers (correct and incorrect) to open-ended questions from a comparable test can be a useful source of inspiration.


By listening to discussions between students during classes, lecturers can identify the points that they emphasize when studying the subject matter. Students seem to find these topics memorable and more relevant. By making short notes of these discussions, lecturers can make use of them when later composing test questions. One possible objection is that “but if this is such a common topic of discussion, they must all know the answer!”, but this is not a valid position. Is it really a problem if almost all of the students answer a question correctly, provided that the question relates to a relevant topic? This indicates that they have all understood this point during classes.

Interim thoughts

Lecturers often find that potential test questions come to mind while they are preparing lectures or while actually teaching. It is useful to commit these thoughts to paper immediately, so that they can later be converted into test questions.


Berkel. H. and Bax, A. (Ed.) Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs (Testing in higher education; page 34)

>> return to “closed-ended questions

>> return to “open-ended questions

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