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Practical Tips for Using Course Objectives to Anticipate Test Items

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In an earlier post, I explained how to streamline studying for a course. My basic point was this: You can avoid making it any harder than it’s supposed to be by looking at the level of the learning objective. Here, I’ll give you some practical tips to help you use the objective to anticipate the test item. 

Learn the basics of multiple-choice item construction

Look at this very simple description of the anatomy of a test item. It might not help you on the test itself, but it will help you to understand what I’m talking about here.

STOP when you don’t know the definition of something!

I’ve seen this situation hundreds of times. I’ve stumbled over it myself.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people mess up on a test or a practice exam simply because they didn’t know what a word meant.

The lowest level of learning is simple recall. So, you must remember definitions. But if you’ve never learned or cannot recall that definition, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to answer test items that reflect a more difficult learning objective.

Get a list of important words. Download my free list of 1000+ Terms. Or if you’re more ambitious, buy my Guide to Decoding Lactation Photos Course. Each chapter of the accompanying workbook starts with a list of terms, and then defines the term somewhere in the chapter.

Use objectives to focus and to anticipate test or quiz items

My earlier post described how objectives set you up to see the difficulty level you’ll be expected to deal with. Having that in mind will help you to use the objective to anticipate the test item. Look at these examples of objectives and their “matching” quiz items.

Here’s the lowest level of learning objective:

“State the definition of an open-ended question.”

Here’s what that means:

Expect to see a test item with a stem, followed by three (or four, or five) options. All except one will require you to recall the definition of an open-ended question.

Here’s an example of a recall item:

An open-ended question is one that can be answered by allowing for:

  1. a firm yes or no.
  2. only one correct response.
  3. some degree of elaboration.

Here’s the next level of learning objective:

“Recognize an example of an open-ended question.”

Here’s what that means:

Expect to see a item’s stem, followed by three (or four, or maybe five) options that are examples. The correct response will be an open-ended question; the other options will be incorrect. You’ll need to pick one option that is correct.

Here’s an example:

Which of these is an example of an open-ended question?

  1. Are you going to the concert this evening?
  2. Do you have plans for this evening?
  3. Did you see last night’s episode of Jeopardy?
  4. What are your plans for tomorrow evening?

Re-visit difficulty levels

Let’s take “chair.” You know what a chair is. (You’re probably sitting in one, right now!) Here are six different objectives – all at different difficulty levels – that relate to a chair.

  1. State the definition of at least five different types of chairs. (Knowledge)
  2. Recognize examples of five different types of chairs. (Comprehension)
  3. Employ good body mechanics when using a wheelchair. (Application)
  4. Contrast features of a rocking chair and a recliner. (Analysis)
  5. Determine return on investment after buying an ergonomic chair for all employees. (Evaluation)
  6. Invent a self-cleaning upholstered armchair. (Synthesis)

Can you see how these objectives move from a very low level of knowledge to a very high level? Can you see how you’d need to “state” or “recognize” before you could conquer the other four levels, or answer test items about them?

Don’t expect a test item for every single objective

Ideally, every test item should be based on a learning objective. When I taught at a university, I was very careful to do that, because the end-of-semester test is graded.

However, I’m a little less careful now because I’m outside of an academic setting. Occasionally, if I think it’s a test item that will be helpful later, I write it. But in many or most cases, I have tied the course objective to the test item. But in general, you should use the objective to anticipate the test item.

The reverse is not true. I might write a learning objective without giving a test item. Why so?

Because test item-writing is an art.

I have created a list of about 20 criteria that help me to be sure that the test item is well-worded, that all the options are plausible, that in no circumstance could two options be correct, and many other criteria.

I was chosen to serve on the NCLEX panel twice, and even after their one-week workshop, I’m still learning both the science and the art of item-writing.

So, sometimes, I write the test item, and toss it out because it doesn’t meet that list of criteria I have devised.

Gloss over an objective that does not have a measurable verb

Watch for objectives that start with a non-standard word.

If I say “review” that means that I assume you got that information in previous courses.

If I say “skim” it means zip through the article and see if there’s anything there that is useful, adds clarity, piques your curiosity, or whatever. There won’t be a test item on that.

In short, you can use the objective to anticipate the test item if it’s a measurable behavior. Words like “review” or “skim” aren’t likely to be measurable. So don’t spend too much time on the assignment.

Anticipate quiz/test items from course objectives

Streamlining your study is possible if you know the level of difficulty the objective is calling for. And, you can then use the objective to anticipate the test item at the end of the chapter.

The bad news, however, is that neither you nor I can anticipate what questions will be on the IBCLC exam. So no, I can’t guarantee you’ll pass by taking my course. But if you conquer the course objectives in my course, and correctly answer the end-of-chapter questions, you will have acquired a solid preparation.

How are you preparing for the IBCLC exam? Are you making notes of likely test items? Share I the comments below.

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