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Adaptive Tests

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) is the future of assessment due to the recognised benefits of speed, accuracy, and candidate experience.


What is adaptive testing?

With adaptive testing, the test's difficulty adjusts to the performance of the candidate, getting harder or easier following a correct or incorrect answer respectively.

The principle behind CAT is simple: Ask candidates the right questions, not the same questions. As candidates progress through the test, CAT algorithms estimate their ability in real time. They then use this information to adjust the difficulty to the test, ensuring that optimally difficult questions are administered.

This provides each candidate with a unique testing experience, designed to reach the maximum level of precision in the minimum amount of time. By adopting this approach, CATs show a greater level of accuracy, become much harder to cheat on, and provide a better candidate experience.

Adaptive tests vs traditional tests

A one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work with psychometrics. Give easy questions to high performers, they get them all right. Give hard questions to low performers, they get them all wrong. In both cases, it was a waste of time giving them a test at all.

More worryingly, if every candidate sees the same questions, what happens if an unscrupulous candidate leaks those questions? For fixed form tests, this means the test is now ruined, as anyone can simply download the questions and figure out the answers. Adaptive tests, however, are protected from this kind of cheating, making them far more suitable for online testing.

Designing, calibrating and publishing adaptive tests requires considerable expertise and resources. Publishers must write hundreds of questions per item bank, only retaining the questions which meet psychometric quality control procedures.

Video: What are Computer Adaptive Tests?

Advantages of adaptive testing

  • Shorter Tests

    Compared to fixed form tests, adaptive tests provide a comparable level of accuracy in roughly half the number of questions. This means that CATs can be completed in half the time, without sacrificing precision.
  • Better Candidate Experience

    Candidates are only shown questions which are suited to their level of ability, so they don’t get put off by overly difficult questions or bored by overly easy questions. This means a greatly improved candidate experience.
  • Increased Test Security

    Adaptive tests employ question banks that contain hundreds of unique questions, making it very unlikely that any two candidates will see the same questions. This means CATs are harder to cheat, ensuring the integrity of the results.
  • Frequent Updating

    Because adaptive tests employ question banks, new questions can be added on an ongoing basis, keeping the content fresh, relevant, and engaging. This means that CATs are constantly and consistently improved over time.
  • Customisable Content

    Adaptive tests allows items to be added to the item bank (or dropped out) very easily without negatively affecting the performance of the test. This means test experiences can be customised to suit different presentation requirements.
  • Accurate Results

    Adaptive test algorithms administer a unique and optimal set of questions to every candidate based on their estimated ability. This increases the accuracy and precision of the assessments, quickly achieving a high level of accuracy.

How does adaptive testing work?

Adaptive testing is simple: If a candidate answers a question incorrectly, the next question automatically selected from the item bank will be slightly easier and receive a lower weighting; If a candidate answers a question correctly, the next question automatically selected from the item bank will be slightly harder and receive a larger weighting.

Exceptional candidates won't be bored with overly easy questions, and weaker candidates won't be stressed out or crestfallen by excessively difficult questions, instead everyone receives an optimal testing experience whilst accurately measuring their cognitive ability.

computer adaptive testing

By homing in on the candidate level of ability, adaptive tests administer the most informative questions available, reaching a higher level of accuracy in less time. This shorter time prevents candidates getting frustrated, fatigued or just plain bored with the testing process, improving the candidate experience.

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