An essay item is one in which the examinee relies upon his memory and past associations to answer the questions in a few words only. Since such items can be answered in whatever manner one likes and these items are also known as free answer items.
Essay items are most appropriate for measuring higher mental processes which involve the process of synthesis, analysis, evaluation, organization and criticism of the events of the past. Essay tests are thus suitable for measuring traits like critical thinking, originality and the ability to integrate synthesis or analyze different events.
Types of essay items
Essay items are of two types
- Short answer types
- Long answer type / Extended answer essay type
A short answer essay item is one where the examinee supplies the answer In one or two lines and is usually concerned with one central concept.
A long answer essay item is one where the examinee’s answer comprises several sentences. Such an item is usually concerned with more than one central concept.
Suggestions for Writing Good Essay Items
1 – An essay item must contain explicitly defined problems usually essay items are intended to measure the higher mental process as such its essential that they contain problems in clear cut and explicit terms so that every examinee interprets them in more or less the same way. Therefore, essay item is set to be not valid if its interpretation varies among examinees
2 – It must contain such problems whose answers are not very wide. In case a student is asked to answer a problem with a larger content area. He may start writing whatever he knows without making any discrimination in such a situation he may not write about the facts or information needed by the item, thus lowering the validity of the essay item.
3 – Essay items must have clear cut directions or instructions for the examinees the instruction should indicate the total time to be spent on any particular test item. What type of information is required and the likely weight age to be given to each item so that the examinee may pick up the relative importance of the essay questions and accordingly adjust the length of the answer.
4 – Sufficient time should be allowed in the construction of essay items such items measure the higher mental processes and in order that they actually measure what they intend to measure. It is essential that essay items are carefully worded and ordered so that all the items can be interrupted in the same way.
Difference between Essay tests and Objective Tests
1 – In essay items the examinee writes the answer in her/his own words whereas the in objective type of tests the examinee selects the correct answer from the among several given alternatives.
2 – Thinking and writing are important in essay tests whereas reading and thinking are important in objective type tests. In essay tests the examinee answers the questions in several lines. S/he critically thinks over the problems posed by the questions and arranges the idea in sequence and expresses them in writing. In objective type the examinee doesn’t have to write in many cases. He is simply asked to put a tick/mark. However, in order to make a correct choice he is required to read both the stem as well as the alternative answers very carefully and then critically think and decide.
3 – It is difficult to score objectivity and accurately in essay tests whereas in objective tests can be easily scored objectively and accurately.
4 – Essay tests are difficult to evaluate objectively and partially because the answers are not fixed like the answers of objective items because of the variability in the scorer judgment regarding the contents of the answers in the objective types of tests whether of the selection or supply type scoring can be done accurately because the answers are fixed in them. The scoring will also be objective because when the answers are fixed there will obviously be complete interpersonal agreement among the students.
5 – In objective type tests the quality of the item is dependent upon the skill of the test constructor but in essay test the quality of the item is dependent upon the scorer’s skill.
Writing item for an objective type test is a relatively difficult task. Only a skilled test constructor can write good objective items. The quality of the test items are bound to suffer. If the test constructor lacks skill in writing items as well as limited knowledge regarding the subject matter items in essay tests are easy to construct. A test constructor is even with a minimum knowledge of writing items can prepare relatively good essay items.
6 – Objective test items no matter how well they are constructed permit and encourage guessing by the examinee whereas essay test items no matter how well they are constructed permit and encourage bluffing by examinees.
In objective type test items the probability of guessing can’t be fully nullified. The effect of the guessing is the inflation of the actual score obtained on the test. Guessing is the most obvious when the length of the test is short and the two alternative objectives form is used or when difficult alternative responses are included in multiple choice items or matching items and the length of the test is short.
7 – Assignment of numerical scores in essay test items is entirely in the hands of the scorer whereas assignment of numerical scores in objective type test items is entirely determined by the scoring key of the manual.
Common Points between Essay Tests and Objective Tests
Despite of all these differences following are the common points or main similarities that lie in essay test or objective test.
- An element of subjectivity is involved in both objective type as well as essay tests. In objective tests subjectivity is involved in writing the test items in selecting particular criterion for validation of the test.
In essay tests subjectivity is involved in writing and selecting the items. The most obvious effect of the subjectivity in essay test is seen in scoring of the essay items.
- In both essay tests as well as objective type tests, emphasize is placed upon the objectivity in the interpretation of the test scores. By objectivity is meant the score must mean nearly the same to all observers or graders who have assigned it. If this is not so it means that the scoring lacks objectivity thus reducing the usefulness of the score.
- Any educational achievement such as the ability to spell the English words, proficiency in grammar, and performance in history, geography, and educational psychology can be measured through both the essay test and objective type tests.
When the intention is to measure critical thinking, originality and the organizational ability essay tests are preferred but when the intention is to measure the piecemeal knowledge in any subject, objective type tests are preferred.
However, this line of demarcation is fast vanishing now because objective items have been used effectively for measuring achievement representing, critical thinking and originality of the examinees. Likewise, essay items particularly short answer essay items have been successfully used in measuring achievement representing piecemeal knowledge of any subject.