#Engtips: Test Items and How to Teach Them

Types of Test Item

Test items and questions can be either direct or indirect. A direct test item asks the candidate to perform the skill that is being tested (for example, make an oral presentation). An indirect test item, on the other hand, examines the candidate’s knowledge of individual items of language.

Direct Test Items
Direct test items come in many forms as the following examples show:

  • In test of speaking, students can be asked to do such things as give an oral presentation.
  • In test of writing, students can be asked to do such things as write a letter or report.
  • In test of reading, students can be asked to transfer information from a written text to some kind of visual organizer (a pie chart, a graph, etc.) or match texts with pictures and headlines.
  • In test of listening, students can be asked to transfer the information they hear, or they can put pictures (or events) in the right sequence, or choose between different written summaries of what they hear.

Indirect Test Items
There are many different kinds of indirect test items.

  • For Gap Fills, students have to write a word or words in blanks. For example:

Complete the following sentences with one word for each blank.
She had a quick shower, but she didn’t _ any time to put on her makeup.

  • In cloze texts, every sixth (or seventh, etc.) word is a blank. The students have to understand the whole text in order to fill in the blanks. For example:

At school none of her (1) _ seemed to have remembered that (2) was her birthday either and (3) _ made her miserable.

  • In multiple-choice items, the students have to choose the correct (or perhaps the best) from three or four alternatives. For example:

Choose the correct answer:
There were _ people outside.
any b. a lot of c. much d. noneIn

  • In true/false items, the students have to say whether a statement about a reading text is true of false. For example:

Circle the correct answer:
Brittany went to bed at nine o’clock in the evening. true / false

  • For jumbled sentences tasks, the students have to put sentences in the correct order to make a coherent text, they have to put words in order to make correct sentences. For example:

Put the words in order to make correct sentences.
call / finished / for / left / no / she / sleeping / the / there / time / was / when

  • Sentence transformation exercises ask students to rewrite sentences in a slightly different form. For example:

Rewrite the sentence using the word given.
When she got home, Brittany was still tired so she lay down to have a bit of rest. (because)

  • Proofreading exercises ask students to identify the mistakes in certain sentences.
    For example:
    Underline the mistake in the following sentences.
    Luckily, she doesn’t wearing much makeup.

Candidates can also be asked to do matching tasks and we can give them dictations which test a range of competencies, such as listening, spelling, grammar, collocations, etc.

How to Prepare Students for Tests
Students are often highly motivated in exam classes because they have a clear goal to aim for. We can use their enthusiasm to help them prepare for achievement and proficiency tests.

  • We will give the students experience with the indirect test items that they are likely to meet. We will also give them strategies for dealing with multiple-choice questions. For example, they should find the most obvious distractors (the choices that are wrong), eliminate them and then focus on the possibilities that remain and try to work out what is being tested.
  • Students can do direct tasks which are similar to ones they will meet in the test, but we can also get them involved in any other activities and materials that will help them improve their English.
  • We can get the students to roleplay, oral interviews (one student plays the examiner)
  • Students can try to write their own exam items and give them to their classmates. This will give them a good idea of what is involved.
  • Students can give each other sections of tests to do or they can work in pairs and groups to discuss how to do them.

Harmer, Jeremy. 2012. Teacher Knowledge Core Concept in English Language Teaching. England: Pearson Education Limited.


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