Key Points

Despite increased interest in a variety of non-traditional, authentic assessment formats, a number of written formats still retain an immense presence in educational assessment. Whether for in-class tests in primary school or public examinations at secondary level, pen-and-paper tests continue to have significant relevance for students and teachers today. Although there are some tendencies towards computerised assessment, it is unlikely that traditional formats will disappear in the short term. One fundamental task in planning an assessment is to match the assessment task to the relevant learning, be it specified in terms of objectives, outcomes, skills, specifications or curriculum. This ensures a close alignment between the type of learning promoted in class and the means to assess it. Only then can you focus on the actual ‘instruments’ and develop these in a manner likely to elicit valid, reliable interpretations and responses. Essays, true–false tests, multiple-choice tests and matching exercises are amongst the traditional written formats that have enjoyed wide usage (and, sometimes abuse). There is enormous difference between hastily constructed, poorly developed items or assessments and those that are designed with care. By paying attention to well-established sound principles of item and test development, implementation and scoring, teachers can use written formats with confidence, as part of a broad pool of assessment approaches in their professional practice.