Tag Archives: subjective assessments

Asking All the Right Questions

Questions In a business setting, it’s all about the numbers.  From process times to budgets, cost analyses and quality metrics, business professionals make their careers around numbers and figures.  We thrive in an environment where everything is measured, for that is how we can prove our worth, and how a company can measure success.  The world of business training is no different.  We need to be able to prove that the time we put in is worth the company investment, and worth taking the trainees’ time to learn what we are teaching.  We measure these result by taking assessments.  We talked about more subjective assessments in our last post, but measurements ultimately come from hard numbers – more objective assessments.

In order for our assessments to be as accurate as possible, we need to make sure we’re asking the right questions, and those questions should be easy to understand.  You might have heard recently about the changes to the SAT exams by the College Board, in which they are eliminating language and questions that contain difficult or obscure words.  This is a similar effort that we need to make sure we incorporate.  In addition, what styles of questions could we include to improve assessment accuracy?

The most common styles of questions are multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, or short answer.  Let’s look at the basic pros and cons of each style, plus some things to remember:

Multiple choice
Pros: Easy to answer and easy to write, can be worded to increase or decrease difficulty
Cons: Can be giveaways for trainee, allows for “guessing”
Pointers: If you’re not a trick-question trainer, be sure that your answers are clear and to the point.  Don’t make any single answer the obvious choice – we want our trainees to think about the correct answer.  Avoid “select all that apply”, especially for complex concepts.

Pros: Perhaps the simplest to write, gives trainee good test of accuracy in exact definitions or concept details
Cons: 50/50 choice for trainee, if not written well can lead to disputes over correct answer
Pointers: Be VERY specific with your question, and be sure to point out any negative words; use italics or bold to highlight key words.  These can lead to second guessing on the part of the trainee, so specific language and jargon should be used only if it’s part of the lesson.

Pros: Great for testing terms and definitions, process steps, or formulas.
Cons: Requires trainees to write legibly (if writing by hand), and can be difficult to grade quickly.
Pointers: Make sure your question is specific of which answers to enter here; don’t leave any gray area.  Keep your answer blanks to a 2-3 minimum – i.e.: Don’t ask “What are the 47 different Project Management processes?” You don’t want to grade a test like that.

Short answer
Pros: The best way to ensure a trainee’s understanding of complex or large concepts, allows for some creativity or expression.
Cons: Definitely time-consuming to grade, and allows for subjectivity, unless it’s a simple definition question.
Pointers: Short answers can lead to long exams.  Try to keep your answers to a one-paragraph minimum, that way they’re easier to grade, but still gives the trainee ample space to explain themselves.

Keeping these simple guidelines in mind can give you the tools necessary to write good quality assessments.  What are some of the most interesting examples you’ve seen?  What are some of the worst questions you’ve seen on an exam?

Photo credit: The Telegraph