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Change proves true
on the day
it is finished
I Ching, c 2000 B.C
Chinese Book of Changes

Constructing true/false tests

What happens: Learner

  • Analyzes a statement
  • Assesses whether true or false
  • Marks an answer

When/how to use:

  • Appropriate for all levels of cognitive ability
  • Objective
  • Efficient in testing recall and comprehension of a broader content area relative to other testing strategies
  • Well suited to test recall, comprehension of simple logic or understanding, as with "if-then" "causal/because" statements
  • Not appropriate to test the ability to read or interpret complex sentences or understand complex thoughts
  • Sufficiently reliable and valid instrument:
    Its ability to include the most test items in a time frame increases its reliability.
    True false tests are less reliable than multiple choice tests unless relatively more test items are used
  • Useful for automated scoring
  • Useful for item analysis, internal and over time

Ideal test items
Critical content should be readily apparent and identified for analysis, avoiding cleverness, trickery, and verbal complexity

  • Use simple, direct language in declarative sentences
  • Present the correct part of the statement first,
    and vary the truth or falsity of the second part if the statement expresses a relationship (cause, effect--if, then)
  • Statements must be absolute without qualification,
    subject to the true/false dichotomy without exceptions
  • Every part of a true sentence must be "true"
    If any one part of the sentence is false,
    the whole sentence is false despite many other true statements.
  • Paraphrase, and do not directly quote,
    course content to avoid burdening students with detailed verbal analyses, maintain focus on differentiating, as well as avoid copyright issues
  • Include background, qualifications, and context as necesary:
    "According to...., ...."
  • In developing a question with a qualifier, negative or absolute word,
    substitute or experiment with variations to find the best phrase and assessment


  • Unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts
  • Long strings of statements
  • Ambiguous statements and generalizations
    that are open to interpretation
  • Indefinite or subjective terms
    that are open to interpretation
    "a very large part" "a long time ago" "most"
  • Negative words and phrases: they can be confusing
    IF negatives are necessary, they are emphasized with underlined, bolded, CAPITALIZED, italicized, and/or colored indicators
    e.g.: "no" "not" "cannot"
    Drop the negative and read what remains to test your item
  • Absolute words restrict possibilities.
    These imply the statement must be true 100% of the time and usually cue a "false" answer
    e.g.: "No" "never" "none" "always" "every" "entirely" "only"
  • Relative and qualifying words restrict or open up general statements.
    They make modest claims, are more likely to reflect reality, and usually cue a "true" answer.
    e.g. "usually" "often" "seldom" "sometimes" "often" "frequently" "ordinarily" "generally"
  • Pay close attention to
    negatives, qualifiers, absolutes, and long strings of statements

Variations in answers:

  • Base questions upon introductory material,
    as graphs, images, descriptions, problems, mediated objects, etc. to
    Enhance assessment value
    Accommodate and empower those with alternative learning styles
    Evoke higher level thinking, analysis, or problem solving
  • Add an option to "True" "False" possibility, as "Opinion"
  • Ask for an elaboration on the answer, as
    "True" "False"
    If so, Why?
  • Ask for a correction to false statements

Test instructions:

  • Before the test, give clear, proactive instructions
    on what content is covered,
    level of detail, and what type of questions will be asked:
    Encourage comprehension: cause and effect, if/then, sequences,
    Avoid memorization
  • Detail exactly what must be exactly memorized:
    dates, locations, proper names, sequences
  • Be consistent in test administration over time
  • Have students indicate their answers by circling
    complete words of "true" "false" (not "t" "f")
    Do not have students write their response of t/f or true/false to (avoids distinguishing/problems of hand writing and sloppiness)
    Avoid plus or minus signs "+" of "-"
  • Indicate how the test is scored:
    total right, or total right minus wrong?

How to develop a true/false test:

  1. Write out essential content statements
  2. Convert half to false, though not negative, statements
  3. Make true and false statements equal in length
  4. Group questions by content
  5. Build up to difficulty
    (encourage with simpler questions first)
  6. Randomize sequences of T/F responses
    Avoid a discernable pattern
  7. Vary the quantity of true/false statements from test to test
    recognizing that "true" is marked more often in guessing, and
    that assessing false statements tends to be more challenging


  • Scoring tends to be high
    since guessing yields a 50-50 score (half right half wrong) as a base. i.e. if there are 100 items, and the student knows the correct answer to 50, and guesses on the other half, the score will be 75 knowing only half the material.
  • Since the stem can cue a correct answer,
    guessing is enhanced without really understanding the question
  • The format does not provide diagnostic information
    on why a student got it wrong
  • It may be easy to cheat
  • Content can be simplistic and/or trivial
Curricular guides and resources:

Using feedback in the classroom | Teaching critical thinking | Bloom's taxonomy |
Teaching with questioning | Preparing guided notes |
A curricular idea! | Curricular resources and guides |
Learning Exercises & Games | Exploring learning styles |
Constructing true/false tests | Constructing multiple choice tests |
Constructing essay exams | Cross language resources including digital translators |
Online Learning/eLearning books and resources for teachers