Summary of Recommendations

There can be disagreement among professionals about what test preparation activities are appropriate versus those that are inappropriate. Some disagreement may occur because different assumptions are being made by the individuals involved. Indeed, Mehrens and Kaminski (1989) have noted that the determination of the appropriateness of many test preparation activities depends heavily on contextual factors. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA et al., 2014) offer a good starting point regarding what test developers can do in order to foster appropriate test preparation.

One such action is for test developers to provide examinees with free and easy access to basic information about the test (see Standards 8.1 and 8.2). This would include providing information about the test’s purpose and the specifications for the content and item types that appear on the test. Test developers should also provide examinees free and easy access to materials such as sample items, scoring rubrics and sample student responses at different ability levels (see Standard 6.5).

Test developers also need to support test administrators by providing them with guidance about what is and is not appropriate for their test preparation activities as well as what test materials must remain secure and confidential (see Standard 12.7). In some testing programs, test administrators can use their technical advisory groups as information resources about appropriate and inappropriate test preparation activities.

Some testing may not require any test preparation beyond ensuring that examinees understand both the purpose of the test (e.g., the general knowledge and skills assessed) and the tasks they are expected to perform (e.g., format of items and format of responses). More extensive test preparation can have a dual character. On one hand, it is encouraging that many approaches to test preparation can produce positive results, will not pollute test data and may even enhance the validity of test score inferences. On the other hand, inappropriate test preparation can complicate the interpretation of test scores or, worse, lead to fraudulent test results.

Crocker (2005) observed that an emerging trend in admission and licensure testing is to provide examinees free access to test preparation materials. Zwick (2006) reasoned that this practice averts claims of unequal access to such resources. Test developers would do well to regard test preparation as merely one part of the larger testing experience, in which standardization is a key objective. In this regard, test developers should provide examinees with thorough test preparation materials, including practice activities, thereby offering them a common, sufficient, supportive and accurate source of information about the tests for which they are preparing.

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