Developing great social studies test items
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Developing Great Social Studies Test Items. Nancy Hester, RESC XIII [email protected] You should attempt to write these types of items to include on every test:. Lower Level Easy (LLE) Lower Level Difficult (LLD) Higher Level Easy (HLE) Higher Level Difficult (HLD).

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Developing Great Social Studies Test Items

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Developing Great Social Studies Test Items

Nancy Hester, RESC XIII

[email protected]

You should attempt to write these types of items to include on every test:

  • Lower Level Easy (LLE)

  • Lower Level Difficult (LLD)

  • Higher Level Easy (HLE)

  • Higher Level Difficult (HLD)

United States History - LLE

  • The policy of acquiring colonies and building empires is known as:

    • A. Isolationism

    • B. Industrialism

    • C. Anti-colonialism

    • D. Imperialism

United States History - LLD

  • Which of the following would describe the foreign policy of the U.S. immediately after the Spanish-American War?

    • A. Imperialism

    • B. Isolationism

    • C. Militarism

    • D. Socialism

United States History - HLE

  • Which of the following actions by the U.S. Government would have been endorsed by imperialists?

    • A. Building the Panama Canal

    • B. Granting independence to the Philippine Islands

    • C. Passing low protective tariffs

    • D. Reducing military forces

United States History - HLD

  • Imperialism : ________ :: Isolationism :________

    • A. Spanish-American War Period – 1920’s

    • B. Gilded Age – WWI Period

    • C. Spanish-American War – WWI Period

    • D. Gilded Age – 1920’s

Plan Your Test

  • 70 % Easy to Medium

  • 30% Difficult

  • 50% Lower-Level Content

  • 50% Higher-Level Content

Test Specification Chart

Examples of Higher Level Stems

  • Which is an example of…..

  • Who would most likely have written (asked, said…) followed by a quote

  • Analogies

  • Fill in the missing part of this graphic organizer

  • Sequencing by Roman numeral

  • Who would have been helped by (law, invention, organization, reform)

Test Item Development

  • Direct word associations in the stem and distracter

  • Indirect word associations in the stem and distracter

  • True, but doesn’t fit the time period or specified geographic area

  • True, but not true in this case – doesn’t answer this particular question

  • Am I teaching and assessing in my classroom at the same level that is expected in the TEKS?


  • Never make a distracter a throw-away

  • If you use ALL, none, or except, do not capitalize, italicize or use bold face.

  • Make all distracters parallel (verb phrases, nouns, proper nouns, etc.)

  • Do not let one distracter stick out farther than others

  • Do not repeat the same verbiage at the beginning of distracters. (They all had….They all had….)


  • Be sure if you are asking for a generalization all of the distracters are, in fact, generalizations and not simple inferences or main ideas. This is true of all of the skills to be tested.

  • Be sure there is not more than one plausible answer.

  • Avoid “Best Answer”



Skills Prompts

  • Cause/Effect

    • Why did/would….?

    • If you removed…..?

  • Infer/Conclude

    • The manufacturers must have…..

  • Summarize

    • Which best describes…..?

Skills Prompts

  • What do you see? What does it mean?



Skills Prompts

  • Low-Level Map Skills

    • Direction

    • Key

    • Location

    • Identification of Physical Feature

  • High-Level Map Skills

    • Cause/Effect - Impact of above on lifestyle, work, climate, war, commerce, culture

Skills Prompts

  • High-Level Map Skills, cont’d.

    • Develop general conclusions supported by details from the map (You can tell by looking at this map that it must be [place] because……

    • Main Ideas/Summaries – break maps into parts; Describe and infer about each part…

Skills Prompts

  • Graphs, Charts and Data

    • Simple to complex

    • Comparisons (more, less, most, least)

    • Conclusions/Generalizations (based on the data, you can tell that)

    • Predict from trends (line graphs)

    • Main Idea/Inference – What do you think this graph is about?

Skill Prompts

  • Graphs, Charts, and Data, continued….

    • Make justified decisions based on data (I would prefer to open a business in [place] because….)

    • Connect cause/effect to trends or phenomena shown

    • Transfer information from one form to another (chart to graph)

Study Item Types

  • Study samples of items to get ideas. Include

    • Prompts

    • Graphic Organizers

    • Readings

    • Direct Content Questions

  • Do not try to use one type of item over and over. Vary the stems.


  • Jan Moberly, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Region 10 ESC

  • Kosovo War Crimes –

  • National Archives and Records Administration –

  • Library of Congress American Memories –

  • Texas A & M University Department of Education Empowerment Zone –

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