Writing Short-Answer Items in Naiku

This week’s class focuses on the topic of item writing. All assessment items can be categorized either as a selected-response or a constructed-response item. I will be going over the advantages and disadvantages of each of the item type (i.e., true-false, multiple-choice, matching, short-answer, and essay items) in my class.  For this blog, I want to focus on short-answer items.

Short-answer items require a word, short phrase, or a number response. There are three different varieties of short-answer items. The question variety asks a direct question. The completion variety presents an incomplete sentence and requires the student to complete it. The association variety consists of a list of terms for which the student has to recall numbers, labels, or other terms.

Short-answer items are useful in educational testing because they can be used to assess lower-order thinking skills such as recall and comprehension of information. However, they can also be used to assess higher-level abilities. For example, students can be asked to make interpretations of data, solve numerical problems in science and mathematics, or balance mathematical and chemical equations.

To create a good short-answer item, follow these guidelines:

  1. A direct question is preferable to an incomplete statement. The completion format always implies a question. The student must mentally convert the statement into a question. Therefore, be straightforward and ask the student a direct question in the first place.
  2. The required response should be concise. Short-answer items should require a single correct answer. This can be a brief phrase, a word, or a number. Items with short and concise answers tend to be more specific and clear.
  3. Place the blank near the end of the sentence. If you do use the completion variety, place the blank near the end of the sentence. If you place the blank at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence, the student may have forgotten what is sought by the time the entire sentence has been read. Also, when blanks are at the beginning, students have to rearrange it into a question before responding to it. Either way, students will have to read the sentence at least twice before they can answer it.

Strengths and Shortcomings

Short-answer items are relatively easy to construct. Unlike multiple-choice items, they reduce the probability of a student correctly guessing the answer. Also, they are mostly objectively scored. These are their strengths.

A shortcoming of short-answer items often cited is that they can be difficult to score. Spelling and grammatical errors tend to complicate the scoring process and make it time consuming.

However, these shortcomings can be overcome with a good online testing engine. For example, a good testing platform should not require a teacher to anticipate and list all the possible misspelling of a word. This is what is typically done and required by most testing software. For example, if the answer was “strawberry,” the teacher would have to specify all possible misspellings to count as correct (e.g., “starberry”, “strawberri”, “straberry”).

The Naiku Solution

On Naiku, we do not require teachers to list all possible misspellings. For numeric responses, we don’t require teachers to specify all possible precision (e.g., “3.14”, “3.141”, and “3.1415”). For word answers, teachers can simply specify the correct spelling. For numeric response, teachers can specify a tolerance or range of accepted answers. When this is done, all the short-answer items can be automatically scored, making the scoring process objective and very efficient.

In Naiku, to create short-answer items that can be auto-scored, select to create a Constructed-Response item. At the bottom of the screen, select the type of auto-score that is desired.

The choices for type of matcher are:

These are new features in Naiku. Please give them a try. Let us know what you think of them. We love to hear from you.


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