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Cornell University

Asking Good Test Questions

Questions not only measure what students know, but can reveal different levels of knowledge and learning.

1. What are good test questions?
2. How can you develop good test questions?

1. What are good test questions?

Good test questions:

  • Assess what you intend for them to assess.
  • Allow students to demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Elicit answers that reveal students’ intellectual progress.
  • Motivate students and help them structure their academic efforts.
  • Can discriminate between students who have learned what you had intended them to learn and those who have not.

2. How can you develop good test questions?

Some basic steps:

  • Determine what you want students to know. Revisit the learning outcomes you may have articulated at the beginning of the course.
  • Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to review verbs that could inform test questions, such as apply, compare, describe, etc.
  • Examine the different types of questions: fill-in the blank, short answer, multiple choice, matching, essay question, etc. Use multiple question types, as different students may be better or worse at answering various types of questions.
  • Examine whether the questions ask, “How much do you remember of what has been covered?” rather than “What can you do with what you have learned?” (Dressel, 1976).
  • Come up with a few possible questions after each lecture; this may increase the quality of test questions because they are more likely to be more representative of your instruction.
  • Consider having students create and submit test questions after a class. Review them for possible use.
  • Have a colleague or TA review and provide feedback on test questions.


This Test Construction Manual pdf is a useful resource when designing your exam and revising your draft questions (see pages 18-29).


Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dressel, P.L. (1976). Handbook of Academic Evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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