Writing Matching Items

Matching items are utilized to measure a student's understanding of the relationship between similar terms, events, or theorists.  Matching items are considered selection assessments, as they require students to identify or recognize the correct association between provided alternatives.  In addition, matching items are classified as an objective question type as there is only one correct answer for each premise.  In a typical matching item, students are provided a list of brief explanations, descriptions, or definitions (called premises) and are required to match these premises, via factual or logical basis, with the correct alternative (called response) from a second list.  The integrative nature of matching items makes them ideal for assessing the ability to discriminate, categorize, and associate among homogeneous concepts.  While matching items are often utilized to assess factual knowledge, they are also effective for targeting comprehensive, application, and analysis levels of understanding.

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Tips for Writing Matching Items:

  • The strength of matching items is their ability to assess the relationship between homogeneous concepts or terms.  Thus, to be most effective, ensure all premises and responses are members of a similar category or topic.

  • To prevent biasing students to the correct association, all premises should be plausible alternatives for each response.  In addition, avoid giving inadvertent grammatical clues to the correct association between premise and response.

  • So that reading skills and memory do not impact the assessment of student understanding, make premises brief and direct.  Generally, premises should be written as a single short sentence or phrase.

  • While the association between premises and responses may be clear to the test designer, be sure to identify the desired relationship to the student.  Include clear directions that specify the target relationship and guidelines for matching (whether or not all responses are utilized and whether responses may be utilized more than once).

  • To improve the efficiency of testing, place premises and responses in a logical order (alphabetic, numerical, chronological, etc.).  This will allow students to easily review items and locate the desired premise or response.

  • Because completion of a matching item requires continual comparison and review, ensure that all matching items appear on the same page.

  • Traditionally, premises are listed in a vertical column on the left and responses in a vertical column on the right.  This arrangement allows for ease of reading and responding.

  • Letters or numbers may be used to match the premise to the correct response.  When using letters, direct students to indicate the association in capital letters; capital letters are more efficient to grade as they are not as visually similar as lower case letters.

  • To limit student arguments and improve item validity, make sure that each premise has only one correct response (although a response may be used as the correct answer for more than one premise depending on the design of the assessment).

Ideas to Enhance the Effectiveness of Matching Items:

  • When the number of premises and responses are equal and each set is a direct match, students may utilize context clues or a process of elimination to determine correct associations.  To prevent the impact of test-wiseness, utilize an imperfect match system that includes an uneven number of premises and responses.  When using an imperfect match system, be sure to indicate that some responses may be used more than once or not at all.

  • A special type of matching item is the rearrangement item.  When assessing via a rearrangement item, premises are matched to a limited number of pre-established categories.  This type of assessment allows an instructor to measure the ability to sort and categorize similar information.

  • Another alternative type of matching item is a ranking item in which students are required to arrange premises according to a specified ranking system.  Ranking systems typically utilize numerical ranks (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) as the responses and measure a student's ability to determine the relative ranking between premises.

Review Checklist:

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Aiken, L. R. (2000). Psychological testing and assessment (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Chatterji, M. (2003). Designing and using tools for educational assessment. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Gronlund, N. E. (2003). Assessment of student achievement (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2002). Meaningful assessment: A manageable and cooperative process. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

McKeachie, W. J. (1999). Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Popham, W. J. (2000). Modern educational measurement: Practical guidelines for educational leaders (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Trice, A. D. (2000). A handbook of classroom assessment. New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.


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