How to Write a Practice Test

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One of the most important (and often overlooked) aspects of scioly.org is the Test Exchange. A common misconception of the test exchange is that only tests from tournaments can be used. This is simply not true. Homemade practice tests can be uploaded to the exchange and are in fact sometimes more effective for studying than tests from actual tournaments. Making your first practice test may seem like a daunting task, but it is not as hard as it looks. This guide will give you a basic outline of test-writing, as well as describe some of the craft’s finer points.

Choosing an Event

To write a practice test, you must first choose the event you will write the test for. You may already know what event you want to write for, and if you do, skip ahead to the next section.

If you don’t know what event you want to write a test for, there are a few simple guidelines you should follow.

Obviously, you should be experienced in the event, so you know what tests in that event look like, and have solid background knowledge on your subject.

You should also have fun participating in the event you choose. If you don’t have fun during tournaments when you’re in the event, then you probably won’t have fun writing a test for that event.

Keep in mind there are some events you can't write practical tests for. Most building events can be self-tested, and therefore do not require a test uploaded to the exchange. Some lab events require materials that are hard to find or that some teams might not have, so hands-on events might be difficult to write tests for. The majority of study events require only a pencil to complete, and it follows that most practice tests are for those same study events. That being said, never hesitate to write for events which are lacking tests on the exchange. Someone has to write them, it might as well be you.

Outlining Your Test

Now that you’ve chosen what event to write for, it’s time to start planning out how you want the test to be written. This involves more than deciding whether or not to use multiple-choice questions. The rules provided for each event by Science Olympiad can be very specific as to how each test is to be formatted. Some events, like Compute This require the same format for each test. Some other events have vague outlines that allow for a little bit of versatility, and still others have no set recommended format.

Go find the rules for your event right now if you haven’t already, you’ll need them many times through the rest of the process.

If you’ve chosen an event that has no recommended format, you have a few decisions to make. What type of questions will you include (i.e. fill in the blank, multiple choice, short answer, etc)? How long will the test be? How difficult will you make the questions? A test with simple multiple choice questions may be able to include more than 50 questions, while a test with more challenging short answer or lab sections may only be able to accommodate 10 questions. Remember that most events have 50 minute time limits, so you should try to make sure the test can be completed within 50 minutes, without making it so simple that someone can finish it in less than 15.

What to Include in Your Test

After figuring out how you want your test to be outlined, you should decide what to include in your test. The event rules may be specific in this area as well. However, the rules will often give a short description of what the event is supposed to be about. This is a good place to start. If you’re not sure whether to include a specific question, look at that description. Decide based on what is allowed in the rules and only what is allowed in the rules, rather than including something because “the rules don’t disallow it”. That doesn't mean you should set unreasonable limits for yourself. Include as much variety as you possibly can. Anything that is covered by the rules is fair game, and your test should reflect that versatility.

Writing the Test

We’ve come to the main event: Writing the Test. If you’ve decided how to format your test, and what to include in it, this should be a cakewalk. All you have to do is come up with questions to fit within the basic framework you’ve laid out for your test. At this point, there is no right or wrong way to write your test. Each event will be written differently. There are, however, some general pointers that cover each event.

Do your best to make sure the questions are presented in an organized manner, rather than a way which scatters similar questions randomly across the test.

Try to make the questions more challenging rather than a simple “Right-There” approach. For example, rather than asking “What is the rock at station A?”, you could say “Identify the rock at station A, how it is made, and where it can be found.” Or, instead of asking “Has the Aral Sea’s water level decreased?”, ask, “Why has the Aral Sea’s water level decreased?”

Make sure your questions are from credible sources. If the answer to the question is unable to be confirmed, or just plain wrong, it’s best to either find a credible site that can confirm the answer or give you the right one.

If some of your questions involve using actual materials, do what you can to make those materials as available to people who may use your practice test in the future. For example, include all necessary images with the test. If you chose to write a test for an event that requires identification, at the very least include pictures of what is to be identified.

Be sure that your questions aren't confusing or off topic. For example, a BAD question for a Solar System test would be "How often do Trojan asteroids orbit in comparison to Earth's orbit?" The writer may be trying to ask something about resonance, but the takers may not be able to comprehend it. Make sure your questions are worded so that takers can easily comprehend your questions.

The Answer Key

The Answer Key is just as important to your finished product as the test itself. Without the answer key, teams don’t know what they’ve missed, and how to correct their mistakes! The answer key also provides you with a valuable time to check your work. Don’t write the answer key with the test- write it after completing the test. Go back through your test, and, using any resource, answer each individual question. When you’re satisfied with the finished product, double check everything again.

Uploading the Test

Now that you’ve finished writing your test, follow the instructions on the Test Exchange page to upload your test. Make sure it is in a format that most people can view (such as .doc or .pdf) and go to Special:Upload. Follow the instructions to upload your files and edit the Test Exchange page to display your new test. When doing so, use the [[Media:File]] format.

Note: The preferred file type for uploaded tests are PDF. You can always convert your doc file to PDF using a converter.

Tips and Tricks

  • Remember you don’t have to write the test all in one go. You can and should take a few breaks. The important thing is that you’re writing a test and contributing it to the exchange.
  • Always double or triple check your work. You never know when you may have missed something in the answer key. You could even ask another member of the team who does the event to check your work for you.
  • On complicated questions, such as those that involve math, include in the answer key how to find the correct answer. Also try to include the question, or a brief summary of the question, before the answer. Finally, on multiple choice questions, post not only the letter of the answer but the answer itself.
  • Your test doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. A title page isn’t necessary. It’s the content that counts.
  • Be prepared to answer any questions other users have about your test. If something isn’t explained clearly, it’s your job to solve the problem. This also provides feedback to make the test-making process easier.
  • Not every person has MS Word or PowerPoint, etc. so it may help to upload your test in a PDF format. That way, more users will have access to your test.