Academic journal article Trames

Test-Taking Effort as a Predictor of Performance in Low-Stakes Tests

Academic journal article Trames

Test-Taking Effort as a Predictor of Performance in Low-Stakes Tests

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Different tests are used to measure cognitive abilities. It has been a common belief that cognitive tests give an objective and unbiased measure of students' cognitive abilities and skills. However, there are several publications indicating that test results may be influenced by several additional variables, for instance test-taking motivation, test-taking effort, and test-taking patterns can all be covariates of cognitive ability test results (e.g. Barry, Horst, Finney, Brown, and Kopp 2010, Baumert and Demmrich 2001, Eklof 2006, 2010, Wise and DeMars 2005). Therefore, it could be complicated to get 'pure' test scores--there are reasons to expect additional influences from the motivational side of test-taking. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council for Measurement in Education 1999) suggest that test-taking effort should be collected, reported, and used in the interpretation of test scores.

1.1. Different sides of intelligent behaviour

Early pioneers in cognitive abilities research recognized that intelligent behaviour has different dimensions. Thorndike (1927) suggested that at least three measures are needed to describe cognitive abilities: altitude, width, and speed. According to Thorndike, altitude means the measure of complexity or difficulty of operations one can perform. Width means the variety of tasks humans can solve. Speed is the number of tasks one can complete in a given time. Spearman (1927) also recognized that cognitive abilities should be described with several parameters and covariates (including speed and will), but his emphasis on general intelligence (g) had the strongest impact on the subsequent development of the intelligence (IQ) conception and measurement. Decades after Spearman, Furneaux (1960) made an attempt to view cognitive abilities as a problem-solving behaviour. Furneaux took into account previous ideas about the balance between speed and accuracy for describing problem-solving behaviour, but added one additional and somewhat subjective category--continuance. According to Furneaux, continuance refers to the fact that test-takers are not willing to spend unlimited time on one item and evidently they seek reasonable time allocation. For time efficiency, they can make the decision to abandon some items and try to be efficient in more familiar cases. This decision-making process can influence the assessment of cognitive abilities.

Ideas analogous to Furneaux's continuance emerged decades later in the context of analysing power and speed in cognitive testing (e.g. Partchev, De Boeck, and Steyer 2011, Sheppard and Vernon 2008, van der Maas, Molneaar, Maris, Kievit, and Borsboom 2011, van der Linden 2011). The crucial element here is the trade-off between speed and accuracy. Test-taking speed may be increased at the cost of accuracy and vice versa (Klein Entnik, Hornke, Kuhn, and Fox 2009, Parchev et al. 2011). Mental speed is measured via different indicators measuring the speed of information processing in relatively simple cognitive tasks--reaction time, general speed of processing, speed of short-term memory processing, inspection time, etc. (Sheppard and Vernon 2008). With these indicators, the mean correlation with psychometrically measured IQ is about r = .24 (Sheppard and Vernon 2008:542). But this modest correlation does not mean that better results in cognitive reasoning tests have been gained via faster test-taking. Wilhelm and Schulze (2002) argue that time constraints can have an impact on test performance because, due to this, some test-takers may start hurrying. Test-taking speed and mental speed are different concepts. Test-taking interest, strategy, and speed are clearly motivational ones.

1.2. Test-taking motivation

Test-taking motivation is defined as the extent to which examinees give their "best effort to the test, with the goal being to accurately represent what one knows and can do in the content area covered by the test" (Wise and DeMars 2005:2). …

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