Demystifying item writing: The need for a theoretical framework

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It is generally agreed in the language testing literature that item writing, though integral to the quality of standardised tests, is seriously under-studied. Even in the rare cases of Salisbury (2005), Kim et al. (2010) and Green and Hawkey (2011), which focus on this particular process, there is still a lack of a coherent framework to fully portray its complexity. In an attempt to bridge this gap, this paper demonstrates how item writing can be investigated through the lens of the cultural historical activity theory (CHAT), a well-established theoretical perspective in education. As this framework is still relatively under-utilised in language testing, it will first be briefly introduced together with the relevant literature on item writing. Following this part, empirical data from a case study of a Vietnamese listening item writer will be provided to illustrate how CHAT could be employed to study the crafting of test items. To conclude, the presentation will discuss the potential of CHAT for future studies into demystifying and improving the item writing process. Since the paper deals with an issue at the heart of the test production process, it will be of great interest to the audience from the countries, including those in East Asia, where local language testing professionals are struggling to meet the growing demand for home-grown standardised language tests. It is also expected to make a theoretical contribution by showing how a prominent framework from psychology and education could be applied to the field of language testing and assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe 4th British Council New Directions in English Language Assessment - Hanoi, Vietnam, Hanoi, Vietnam
Duration: 13 Oct 2016 → …


ConferenceThe 4th British Council New Directions in English Language Assessment
Period13/10/16 → …
Internet address


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