How to Design Performance-Based Exam Questions

Learn how to design performance-based exam questions and get your team and SMEs ready.

Transitioning from multiple choice question (MCQ) to performance-based certification (PBC) isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Tech leaders who have already made the switch —  Google, SUSE and Chef — are enjoying benefits like trustworthy channel-partner relationships, greater brand recognition and increased sales opportunities.

If you’re not a huge company, with an unlimited budget, one of your biggest challenges will be navigating the exam design process with minimal errors. Obviously, no small or medium-sized business wants to waste time, energy and resources on designing a mediocre certification exam.

The good news? Learning how to design performance-based exam questions is relatively straightforward. That’s because the process of creating PBC questions is surprisingly similar to that of MCQ.

However, there are some key differences certification managers should familiarize themselves with before getting started. In this article, we’ll outline what those things are and why they matter.

We’ll also discuss why mentally preparing subject matter experts (SMEs) early-on is vital to growing a successful certification program. Let’s get started:

The Key Difference in Designing Exam Questions for Performance-Based Assessment

Surprisingly, the biggest change has little to do with technical requirements for certification managers, and has everything to do with mindset.

It’s a widely held misperception that the process of designing exam questions for performance-based assessment is entirely different than preparing for MCQ. In reality, the processes are identical aside from a few important steps.

Similarities Between MCQ and PBC:

  • You have to perform a job task analysis (JTA).
  • You can still partner with experienced psychometricians to ensure exam validity and defensibility.
  • You must obtain SMEs for item writing. Typically, these experts are pulled from sales, engineering and/or customer support.

Again, the primary requirements of designing a technical certification exam are the same for both MCQ and PBC. Your preparation will most significantly diverge when working with your SMEs in step three.

Differences Between MCQ and PBC

When building an MCQ exam, SMEs focus on asking themselves questions related to knowledge alone: What exam questions shall we ask? What valid distractors can we use for these questions? How can we structure them as not to give away the answers?

Conversely, SMEs participating in the PBC development process will ask themselves questions like:

  • What tasks do we want the candidate to perform?
  • What are the expected outcomes (end results)? What does it look like when the candidate has successfully completed each task?
  • What software or tools will the candidate have access to?

As you can see, the SME must now mentally walk through sequential actions that achieve specific end results.

Over the years, we’ve received great feedback from SMEs who structure their PBC thought process in this manner. Many of them report greater ease in developing exam material based on their actual job duties.

Not only do SMEs enjoy directly applying their skill sets into building exam items, but they also report feeling relieved of the responsibility of producing trick questions, distractors and contrived examples!

One of the keys to ensuring a smooth transition for your SME’s is engaging them early in the process. It’s extremely helpful to provide them with examples of performance-based exam questions to help ground them on the mindshift they will need to make and to help them more quickly gain mastery of PBC exam development.

Streamline the PBC Exam Process

Unsurprisingly, it’s not uncommon for certification managers to underestimate the amount of work involved in launching and maintaining a successful PBA-based certification program.

However, you can dramatically reduce your stress levels by partnering with someone who has already a). Built the tech infrastructure you need and b). Managed successful PBC programs.

That’s where we come in — TrueAbility partners with small and medium-sized businesses to manage PBC exam development, exam’s registration, delivery and grading for affordable fees. We’ve built the world’s most sophisticated platform for performance-based certification that can be customized to deliver convenient, scalable and accessible exams.

Why waste months “reinventing the wheel,” when you could just use ours? Call us at 877-461-8702 for more information or click the link below for a demo.

Ready to take the next step? 

Click on the button below to schedule a demo of TrueAbility’s performance-based certification platform. 

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