Developing Standardized Tests

For better or worst, standardized testing is a part of the educational experience of most students and teachers. The purpose here is not to attack or defend their use. Instead, in this post, we will look at how standardized tests are developed.

There are primarily about 6 steps in developing a standardized test. These steps are

  1. Determine the goals
  2. Develop the specifications
  3. Create and evaluate test items
  4. Determine scoring and reporting
  5. Continue further development

Determining Goals

The goals of a standardized test are similar to the purpose statement of a research paper in that the determine the scope of the test. By scope, it is meant what the test will and perhaps will not do. This is important in terms of setting the direction for the rest of the project.

For example, the  TOEFL purpose is to evaluate English proficiency. This means that the TOEFL does not deal with science, math, or other subjects. This seems silly for many but this purpose makes it clear what the TOEFL is about.

Develop the Specifications

Specifications have to do with the structure of the test. For example, a test can have multiple-choice, short answer, essay, fill in the blank, etc. The structure of the test needs to be determined in order to decide what types of items to create.

Most standardized tests are primarily multiple-choice. This is due to the scale on which the tests are given. However, some language tests are including a writing component as well now.

Create Test Items

Once the structure is set it is now necessary to develop the actual items for the test. This involves a lot with item response theory (IRT) and the use of statistics. There is also a need to ensure that the items measure the actual constructs of the subject domain.

For example, the TOEFL must be sure that it is really measuring language skills. This is done through consulting experts as well as statistical analysis to know for certain they are measuring English proficiency. The items come from a bank and are tested and retested.

Determine Scoring and Reporting

The scoring and reporting need to be considered. How many points is each item worth? What is the weight of one section of the test? Is the test norm-referenced or criterion-referenced? How many people will mark each test?These are some of the questions to consider.

The scoring and reporting matter a great deal because the scores can affect a person’s life significantly. Therefore, this aspect of standardized testing is treated with great care.

Further Development

A completed standardized test needs to be continuously reevaluated. Ideas and theories in a body of knowledge change frequently and this needs to be taken into account as the test goes forward.

For example, the SAT over the years has changed the point values of their test as well as added a writing component. This was done in reaction to concerns about the test.


The concepts behind developing standardize test can be useful for even teachers making their own assessments. There is no need to follow this process as rigorously. However, familiarity with this strict format can help guide assessment development for many different situations.

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