Modifying Test Questions

In special education, the term “modification” typically means something very different from the term “accommodation.” Both involve some form of adaptation to material or instruction in order to assist students with specific learning needs. Modifications, however, are elevated forms of assistance in that the learning goals for the student are actually changed or modified. However, the suggestions for modifications outlined below do not change the learning goal at all. Instead, these are simple suggestions that teachers can implement on assignments and assessments to allow students with special needs optimal opportunities to express their knowledge and/or skills.

  • Creating a word bank that students can use as a resource on an assessment helps to ensure that issues with memory recall, spelling, dyslexia, etc., do not interfere with the student’s ability to demonstrate his knowledge of vocabulary terms or concepts. A word bank also allows students the opportunity to cross off or eliminate answers as they progress through the questions, helping to visually limit answer options. This strategy is especially helpful for students with testing anxiety or executive functioning challenges.
  • Chunk fewer test questions per page to help minimize the text presented to students. Again, this strategy helps to keep testing nerves at bay since limited text per page is less intimidating. Fewer questions per page allows for greater white space and larger margins, which help to ensure that students do not inadvertently skip or overlook a question.
  • Provide definitions for concept terms that are not being tested to ensure that complex vocabulary, unrelated to what is actually being assessed, does not impede the student’s ability to answer the question at hand.
  • Reduce the number of answer options for multiple choice questions. This strategy helps to visually streamline the questions and help students narrow in on correct responses without the unnecessary distraction of numerous answer options. Instead of having an A, B, C, D, and E, consider limiting multiple choice answers to 3-4 options. The student is still demonstrating her knowledge of the content; the opportunity for error is just slightly reduced.
  • Use underlining, italics, or bold font to indicate an important term or crucial section of the passage. This visually draws attention to key concepts so that students can easily refer back to them in a lengthy text without getting overwhelmed by searching. Since many students struggle with short term recall, skimming while rereading, and isolating key details from superfluous information, the visual cues reduce the impact that these obstacles might present. In doing this, teachers are not providing answers—they are simply helping to highlight key points to clarify what the question is actually asking.
  • For written responses, teachers can help reduce stress on students by providing a grading rubric, which specifies how their written response will be evaluated. If spelling, grammar, and punctuation are not part of the learning objective, be sure to clarify that to students so that they do not get too hung up on perfect spelling. Keep the directions for the prompt or response simple and direct. Abstract or nuanced language can derail any student, but especially those with learning challenges.