Characteristics of a Good Test


A test is considered as valid when it measures what it is supposed to measure. In other words, a valid test should cover all the material dealt with throughout the course of a term.


A test is considered reliable if it is taken again by the same students under the same circumstances and the score average is almost the constant, taking into consideration that the time between the test and the retest is of reasonable length.


Objectivity means that if the test is marked by different people, the score will be the same. In other words, marking process should not be affected by the marking person’s personality.


A good test should include items from different areas of material assigned for the test. For example; dialogue, composition, comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, orthography, dictation, handwriting, etc.


Simplicity means that the test should be written in a clear, correct and simple language. It is important to keep the method of testing as simple as possible while still testing the skill you intend to test. Try to avoid ambiguous questions and ambiguous instructions.


Scorability means that each item in the test has its own mark related to the distribution of marks given by the Ministry of Education.


English Language Supervisor,

Amjaad MH.





A.  Introduction:

  • A test or an exam is an assessment intended to measure a test-taker’s (a student’s) knowledge, skill, or aptitude. A test may be administered orally, on paper, on a computer, or in a confined area that requires a test taker (a student) to physically perform a set of skills. Tests vary in style, rigor and requirements. For example, in a closed book test, a test taker (a student) is often required to rely upon memory to respond/answer to specific items (questions) whereas in an open book test, a test taker (a student) may use one or more supplementary tools such as a reference book or a calculator when responding/answering to an item (a question). A test may be administered formally or informally. An example of an informal test would be a reading test administered by a parent to a child. An example of a formal test would be a final examination administered by a teacher in a classroom. Formal testing often results in a grade or a test score. A test score may be interpreted with regards to a norm or criterion, or occasionally both. The norm may be established independently, or by statistical analysis of a large number of participants[1].
  • Testing plays an important role in teaching. Good testing is essential for good teaching, and good learning. Experience has shown that both teacher and students emphasize what tests emphasize. In consequence, if there is a leak in the testing system, this will cause leaks in the processes of teaching and learning.


B. Purposes of Testing:

  • Although most Students and some teachers dislike tests, the need for testing is great and important. Tests can serve more than one purpose/reason. Here are some reasons for testing i.e. the objectives/goals of test-types . . .

1. Achievement: A test may be used to measure/evaluate students’ achievement. Also, students usually want to know how much they have achieved and where they stand among their classmates. Test scores may urge a student to compete with others, or improving herself. A low score may motivate a student to double her effort to improve her own achievement. A high score gives her a feeling of satisfaction and her success will lead her to a further success.

2. Placement: A test may be used to determine a student’s specific knowledge, proficiency, or level in various subjects for the purpose of assignment to appropriate courses or classes. Placement tests are usually given when students enter an educational institution (e.g., university).

3. Self-evaluation: The teacher needs tests to evaluate her own teaching. She likes to know how much of her teaching has resulted in learning. If the test is well-designed, scores do have an implication. Their highness probably indicates effective teaching and their lowness indicates there is something wrong somewhere. In the latter case the teacher perhaps needs to modify her methods or re-teach.

4. Promotion: Tests needed to determine which students deserve to be promoted from a grade to a higher one. Without testing promotion will be automatic or impressionistic, which is either impractical or unfair.

5. Parents’ information: They want to know how their children are progressing, where they are weak or good, and what help they are in need of. All these information are provided to parents through tests.

6. Diagnosis: Sometimes the test aims at diagnosing problem areas. The diagnosis can be achieved through computing the index of difficulty for each item in the test. Such computation can show us which items are easy, which ones are difficult, and which ones are very difficult for those students. In the light of this classification, the teacher can vary emphasis depending on the difficulty level of each learning area.

7. Urge: It is unfortunate true many students study mainly because of tests. In fact many students, if not the majority, do not study unless a test is announced. For such students, tests are probably the sole motive for working hard.


C. Test types[2]:

  • There are various types of tests that may be used for various purposes. Some of these are . . .

1. Achievement Test[3]

  • Definition: An achievement test measures what learners have learnt on a language course. An achievement test evaluates a learner’s understanding of a specific course or study program. It can be compared with proficiency tests, which measure a learner’s level of language, diagnostic tests, which identify areas learners need to work on, and a prognostic test, which tries to predict a learner’s ability to complete a course or take an exam.
  • Example: The learners have finished units 1 – 4 of a course book, and the teacher now gives them an achievement test based on what they have seen in these units. The test is taken from the teacher’s book.
  • In the classroom: Achievement tests can have many additional functions aside from evaluation. Learners can for example develop an action plan for further study based on the results of an achievement test.

2. Diagnostic Test[4]

  • Definition: A diagnostic test identifies learners’ strengths and weaknesses. A diagnostic test is a test that helps the teacher and learners identify problems that they have with the language.
  • Example: At the start of the course, the teacher gives the learners a diagnostic test to see what areas of language need to be in the syllabus.
  • In the classroom: Progress tests given during the course can also act as diagnostic tests as they help the teacher and learners identify what areas will be looked at next on the course.

3. Objective Test[5]

  • Definition: An objective test is scored according to “right” or “wrong” answers, i.e., it is non-judgmental on part of examiners. An objective test is a test that has right or wrong answers and so can be marked objectively. It can be compared with a subjective test, which is evaluated by giving an opinion, usually based on agreed criteria. Objective tests are popular because they are easy to prepare and take, quick to mark, and provide a quantifiable and concrete result.
  • Example: True or false questions based on a text can be used in an objective test.
  • In the classroom: Marking objective tests together in the class is a useful way to exploit them further as it gives the learners the opportunity to discuss answers, try to justify choices, and help each other etc.

4. Subjective Test[6]

  • Definition: A subjective test contrasts with the objective test because the examiner judges learners’ answers. A subjective test is evaluated by giving an opinion. It can be compared with an objective test, which has right or wrong answers and so can be marked objectively. Subjective tests are more challenging and expensive to prepare, administer and evaluate correctly, but they can be more valid.
  • Example: Tests of writing ability are often subjective because they require an examiner to give an opinion on the level of the writing.
  • In the classroom: Learners preparing for a subjective writing test, for example a letter of complaint, need to think about their target audience, since they are being asked to produce a whole text. Teachers can help them by emphasizing the importance of analyzing the question and identifying the key points of content, register, and format.

5. Oral Test:  An oral test measures learners’ speaking abilities. It may be used throughout the academic year or at the end as a final speaking exam.

6. Placement test:

  • Definition: A placement test is used before the beginning of courses. The placement test is not a pass-fail test. The result of this test is usually used to help students to determine which courses are needed to best meet their academic goals.
  • Example: English Placement Test, ESL (English as a Second Language) Placement Test, Math Placement Test, and Chemistry Placement Test.

7. Proficiency Test[7]:

  • Definition: A proficiency test measures language ability and based on what is needed for a particular purpose. A proficiency test measures a learner’s level of language. It can be compared with an achievement test, which evaluates a learner’s understanding of specific material, a diagnostic test, which identify areas to work on, and a prognostic test, which tries to predict a learner’s ability to complete a course or take an exam. Proficiency tests are uncommon within the classroom but very frequent as the end aim (and motivation) of language learning.
  • Example: IELTS and TOEFL are examples of proficiency tests.
  • In the classroom: Proficiency tests often have a significant backwash effect on the classroom, as learners’ focus narrows to preparing the test items. One way to make practice for exams more meaningful is by asking learners to prepare their own practice questions for the group.

8. Progress Test:

  • Definition: A progress test measures learners’ progress during a language course. Progress tests are repeated at regular intervals to measure the progress of knowledge development. Tests must be different in content (i.e. the material they cover) to prevent recognition of questions and answers by students. But, ideally, all tests should be identical in question types and difficulty.
  • Example: unit(s) tests, and quizzes.

9. Summative Test[8]

  • Definition: is an end of year/end of course test measuring learners’ overall achievement of course objectives. Summative assessment evaluates a learner’s progress up to that point and provides a summary of where they are. It can be compared to formative assessment, which gives the teacher and learner helpful information for future work.
  • Example: At the end of the course, the teacher gives a test to see if the learners know and can use what they have learnt.
  • In the classroom: One way to make summative assessment more meaningful and helpful to the learner is to think about how work done previously contributed to the results. Teachers can ask learners questions such as ‘What did we do in class that helped/didn’t help you in this test?’ and ‘How did your own way of working help/not help?’

10. Formative Assessment[9]

  • Definition: Formative assessment is the use of assessment to give the learner and the teacher information about how well something has been learnt so that they can decide what to do next. It normally occurs during a course. Formative assessment can be compared with summative assessment, which evaluates how well something has been learnt in order to give a learner a grade.
  • Example: The learners have just finished a project on animals, which had as a language aim better understanding of the use of the present simple to describe habits. The learners now prepare gap-fill exercises for each other based on some of their texts. They analyse the results and give each other feedback.
  • In the classroom: One of the advantages of formative feedback is that peers can do it. Learners can test each other on language they have been learning, with the additional aim of revising the language themselves.

11. Announced Test:

  • An announced test refers to any type of test with a date set previously to students such as a final exam i.e. students know before that they are going to take a test, and have plenty of time to prepare for the test. Announced tests are usually long and require some time to answer.

12. Drop Test:

  • A drop test (an unannounced quiz/pop quiz) is a test that teachers sometimes use without having a date set such as a pop quiz i.e. students do not know that they are going to take a test.  Unannounced quizzes are usually short and require a little time to answer. Unannounced quizzes impact student performance, and different subjects are better learned by the use of unannounced pop quizzes. Unannounced quizzes may be used for several reasons such as increasing students’ attendance, increasing students’ reading of assigned material, and increasing students’ studying in between exams as opposed to “cramming”.