The eight pitfalls of testing

A colorful group of teachers and method makers graduated last summer as a test expert at Fontys in Tilburg. A lot still goes wrong during testing, says Desirée Joosten – ten Brinke, director of the new master's program. She lists the pitfalls.



  1. Unclear question

    “A classic example of an unclear question is: 'Why does the KNMI determine the temperature at a large number of measuring points every hour?' There are several answers to this question. 'Why' does KNMI determine the temperature? Because we all want to know how warm it is. Why 'every hour'? Because then, for example, the farmers know the best time to go to the land to sow or harvest. And why 'at a large number of measuring points'? To be able to determine an accurate average. Three answers: all good. ”

  2. Do not indicate how long the answer to an open question can be

    “To a question such as 'What triggered the First World War?' one student writes a one-sentence answer and the other a three-page answer. One sentence is too short. There will be an answer somewhere in three pages, but where? Immediately add how many words the answer should be approximately. "

  3. The rater effect

    “As a teacher you know your students. Suppose a very good student makes a stupid mistake. Then as a teacher you think: I know that he has mastered the material, he only forgot the word 'not' in his answer. The temptation is then to calculate his wrong answer correctly. ”

  4. Create trick questions

    “With a trick question, you want the student to understand that you might want to trap him. That can never be the purpose of a test. "

  5. Only view testing from your own course

    “Suppose that three tests are given in a week. And that the student has an average of 8 for mathematics, for example, but a 4 for English. That student is going to put all his energy into English and mess up his math. Logical, but then that test does not say much about his mathematics knowledge. ”

  6. Giving too many tests

    “Only test if it is really necessary. Sometimes management determines, for example, that three tests must be performed per period. Is that really useful, or is it a waste of time for your profession? I estimate that one third of teaching time is spent on testing; including preparation, review and discussion. Make sure that time is well spent. If you just ask a few questions during class, you sometimes notice whether students have mastered the material. ”

  7. Compose all questions on your own

    “Take tests together with a colleague, or let a colleague watch along from time to time. Because at a certain point you no longer see your own mistakes. But sometimes there is no other option: a Latin teacher is often the only teacher in school who can read his own test. ”

  8. Thinking too lightly about testing

    “Always be as careful as possible, because very important decisions are made based on tests. Take the negative binding study advice in higher professional education: in some studies half of the first-year students sometimes have to stop. Even if they have almost a pass. I often think: Was he really not suitable for the subject, or was it due to the tests? ”