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“How-to” Guide to Creating Online Tests

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By Dana Fine, Senior Instructional Designer at SyberWorks, Inc.

Whether you are an experienced test writer or have no experience writing online tests, this “How-to” Guide to Creating Online Tests will give you a quick but useful overview of how to maximize the quality of online tests and test questions.

To start, what are the main reasons for giving online tests? Online tests usually follow up on recertifications, just-in-time training, or other courses that present “must know” information to student employees. Typically, online tests are required for courses that have either no instructors or low-levels of instructor participation. Online tests allow the LMS system to track and evaluate student answers to questions, and grade tests, with little or no instructor participation. (More about test question types in a moment.)

Throughout the test creation process, you must keep asking yourself several questions:

We will look at each question in turn. But, with these always in mind, you will be able to create questions that support the objectives, and you will be well on your way to helping students capture and retain the must-know course information.

What are the main objectives of this course?

A course's design (and its online tests) fall out of its objectives. These usually come in two forms:

How hard should the test be?

Many resources describe philosophies of testing, but in general, online tests should be easy, as long as they capture all of the important concepts and key terms in the course. Often, it is practical to offer at least a few “gimmies” to start off the test, which will increase a student employee's confidence in their ability to complete the test successfully.

In terms of setting a passing grade, there are also varying philosophies, depending on the industry, the company, and the required competency. Sometimes, a 70% passing rate is fine. An example of this might be in a course entitled The Complete Sales Method, which may have a lot of information, with the practical application being much more individual. However, a company that requires its employees to take Work Security and Procedures might require a 100% grade to pass, especially if there are key terms and phone numbers to remember.

How do I ensure that students don't cheat?

Critics of online tests have long complained that getting honest test results is difficult, even for mandatory adult training. Commercially available training systems may employ two methods to limit the possibility of cheating: randomization and question banks. Test question randomization has become a common feature in many LMS and test-creation systems. Randomized test generators place questions in a different order each time the test is generated or brought up in a web browser. For example, in a 10-question test, question number 4 in the first instance of the test might become question number 7 in the second instance.

While randomization limits exact copying, it only slows down the determined cheater because the overall set of questions remains essentially the same. However, a second technique (question banks) can make it much harder to cheat. Every time a new instance of a test is created, the test question generator selects one question from each bank for the test. For example, say that a test contains 10 question slots, and a “bank” of 4 different but related questions has been created for each slot. Simple algebra tells us that there are 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 1,048,576 different randomly generated tests that any one student might receive. This makes it extremely difficult for students to copy (or even anticipate) the questions that will appear on their tests.

How many times should students be able to take the test?

The answer to this question also depends on the purpose of the test. As a creator, do you have a particularly stringent passing grade, such as 100%? In this case, you might want to allow the student employee to take the test as many times as possible, so that they can retain the most information. Other test creators believe that a student employee should only be allowed three tries to take a test. This may make the student focus more on course content than if they had unlimited chances. But remember that there is no right or wrong answer. The bottom line is always that the student actually understand and retain the course information!

How do I know if I've created a good test?

Entire books and websites are dedicated to the art and science of writing test questions. While a more thorough reading and exploration is encouraged, the basics are:

Do these things and it is likely that you are on the right track!

You may also be able to apply some quantitatively measures to your test design, including:

Now, let's look more specifically at the types of questions that may be used in online tests.

Common Question Types

It is wise to use a variety of question types in online tests. Types that may be available to you include Multiple Correct, Single Correct, Graphical Choice, True/False, Fill-In-the-Blank, Item Match, and Drag-and-Drop.


We hope that this “How-to” Guide to Creating Online Tests has been informative but not overwhelming. By following the advice in this guide, you will be writing effective online tests in no time!

About the Author:

Dana Fine is a Senior Instructional Designer at SyberWorks, Inc. SyberWorks is a custom e-Learning solutions company that specializes in Learning Management Systems, e-Learning solutions, and custom online course development. Dana is also a frequent contributor to the Online Training Content Journal

About SyberWorks

SyberWorks, Inc. is a leader in the custom e-Learning Solutions and Learning Management System industries for Fortune 1000 corporations, higher education, and other organizations. Located in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company serves the multi-billion-dollar e-Learning market. Since 1995, SyberWorks has developed and delivered unique and economical solutions to create, manage, measure, and improve e-Learning programs at companies and organizations in the United States, Canada, Europe, and other countries.

The Online Training Content Journal  Best practices, techniques, and trends in online training development and e-learning instructional design

The Online Training Content Journal blog looks at best practices, techniques, and trends in online training development and e-Learning instructional design.

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