Designing quizzes is one of the most challenging parts of instructional design. Selecting the best question type, crafting the perfect question text, coming up with plausible wrong choices, writing meaningful feedback … these are all demanding tasks. In addition to those tasks, you also need to assign a score to each question and select a passing score for the quiz.

When it comes to those last two tasks, many e-learning developers simply stick with the default passing score and hit Publish. Taking the time to consider how to calculate points and score quizzes is often an afterthought, but these are important considerations when you're trying to get an accurate measurement of your course’s impact. After all, the training’s effectiveness should ultimately tie into business metrics (KPIs) so you and your team can clearly demonstrate the value of your work to the organization.

Read on to learn a few tips that will help you figure out what value to assign to your questions and your passing score in your next course.

Choose a Meaningful Passing Score

The passing score is the score that learners need to pass a quiz. How do you choose the passing score? Should it be 50%, 80%, or 100%? Should you give learners a chance to retake the quiz if they fail? If so, how many times? There is no clear-cut answer; it depends on the specific situation. You’ll want to consider what your learners are learning, why they are learning it, and what the real-life outcomes would be if they fail the quiz.

The passing score, as well as number of attempts, is something you should discuss with your stakeholders during the project planning phase. This is a good time to identify if there are laws or regulations in place that demand a certain passing score, which may be the case for some compliance training courses. If there’s no predetermined passing score, you should decide who will choose the passing score and get stakeholder approval.

The passing score you select will depend on the difficulty of the subject matter and its level of importance. For example, if you’re creating a new employee orientation course, your learner’s passing score is important, but perhaps not crucial. On the other hand, if it’s a medical exam that people need to pass to become a doctor, the passing score is much more significant.

At the end of the day, you and your project team need to make a judgment call for setting every passing score. Someone needs to decide what the passing score should be. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure the person choosing the passing score is the right person to make the call: someone who is qualified to make a judgment, for whom the passing score is meaningful, and who understands the purpose of the quiz.
  • Be able to articulate why you chose the passing score you did: if you need 100% to pass, why is that? If it’s fine to get by on 50%, why did you choose that score?

Keep in mind that setting a passing score of 100% can be frustrating to learners, especially if you keep forcing them to retake the same course and quiz until they achieve that score. This is a great way to turn your quiz into a guessing game, rather than a test of the person’s knowledge and skills. When you select your passing score and number of attempts, think about how it will impact the learning experience.

Identify the Value of Each Question

Each question in your quiz has a score or value, usually represented in points; this is how the passing score is calculated. When you assign how many points each question is worth you want to consider:

  • The difficulty of the question
  • The importance of the question’s subject matter

Some questions are more important than others. Here are two questions from a new employee orientation quiz:

Question 1

Question 2

Where can you locate the company’s email footer text?

  1. In the document library
  2. In SharePoint
  3. In Google Drive

Which of the following is a breach of privacy, punishable by a heavy fine?

  1. Reading unauthorized documents
  2. Improper filing of personal documents
  3. Downloading financial records

Can you tell which of these questions is more important? One of the ways to measure importance is by understanding what would happen if learners DIDN’T have the proper information. In the case of question 1, not having the proper information means an email goes out with the wrong footer text. In question 2, not having the proper information could result in a big fine to the organization. I think most people would agree that question 2 should be worth more points than question 1.

By assigning a specific value to each of your quiz questions and taking the time to settle on a meaningful passing score, you’ll be well on your way to a well-thought-out quiz that is fair and relevant for learners.

Interested in learning more about the science of setting passing scores? There is quite a bit of literature on setting passing scores and some well-known methods, including the Nedelsky Method, the Angoff Method, and the Ebel Method.

Ready to set the passing score in your own courses? Here are some resources for setting the passing score in Articulate Storyline and Rise:

If you have any thoughts or comments on setting an appropriate passing score, let me know in the comments.

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Jason Lewis