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ETS® Major Field Tests

Demonstrate program effectiveness and evaluate student performance

Select a topic to see how the ETS® Major Field Tests can help you improve curricula and student learning outcomes.


Guidelines for Using the Major Field Tests

Institutions planning to use the Major Field Tests should be aware of the possibilities and limitations of the tests. These guidelines provide information about the appropriate use of the Major Field Tests for those who use the scores. They are also intended to protect test takers from unfair decisions that may result from inappropriate uses of the test. Adherence to the guidelines is important.

The ETS Major Field Tests were designed to assist higher education institutions and academic programs in assessing student knowledge within the academic major. Verifying that the content covered in the specific discipline are those that the institution seeks to measure is an important first step when considering usage of the Major Field Tests. We highly recommend that faculty members conduct a content review to determine whether the content and coverage on the tests are consistent with the program’s expectations of students majoring in that field at their institution.

Departments can obtain a review copy of any of the Major Field Tests by completing the Confidential Review Copy Request Form.

Once approved, within 5 to 10 business days, you will receive an email with a link to the test, which can be accessed for 30 days. Like the actual test your students will take, the review copy of the test is a timed experience.

Please request as many review copies as necessary — one for each member of your review committee. If your test expires before you have completed the review, contact an ETS Advisor.

The general appropriateness of using the Major Field Tests to assist in the assessment of the student learning outcomes of specific programs has been established by research studies carried out by ETS and others. Major Field Test scores may be appropriate for some other purposes, but it is important for the user to validate their use for those purposes. Departments and programs using the Major Field Tests are encouraged to collect validity information by conducting their own studies. The ETS staff is available to provide advice on the design of appropriate validation studies without charge.

If the purpose of testing is to make inferences about the performance of groups of students, institutions should test an adequate number of students from each of those groups. The selected students from each group should be representative of the group as a whole. It is best to include all students from each group; however, if you wish to test only a sample:

  • include an adequate number of students from each group about which the institution wants information
  • select the students in a way that will permit the results to be generalized to the group as a whole
  • do not limit the testing to students who volunteer to be tested, unless the institution wants information that applies only to those students

Assessments of student learning outcomes, such as the Major Field Tests, are widely used in higher education for accreditation, accountability and strategic planning purposes. Although important to institutions, the assessment results typically bear no obvious consequence for individual test takers. This lack of consequence can have a negative impact on student motivation. If the students are not motivated to do well on the test, their test scores will not reflect their actual skill levels.

ETS encourages institutions to implement strategies to boost student motivation to ensure that test results reflect your students' actual ability. Some institutions have had success motivating students by explaining how test results are used and how those results can affect the value of their college degree. To learn more about how you can motivate your students to perform their best, contact an ETS Advisor.

Institutions of higher education use the Major Field Tests to provide reliable documentation for accreditation, student achievement benchmarks and curricula improvement. However, programs requiring skills other than, or in addition to, academic skills (such as in the performing arts) require supplemental evaluations, such as recitals, portfolios or performance-based tasks.

Additionally, test scores should always be used in conjunction with other criteria when making decisions about programs or individuals. Departments and institutions are strongly cautioned against making the achievement of a certain score or percentile on the Major Field Tests a necessary condition for a student's graduation.

Test scores

A test contains only a sample of the content knowledge that students are expected to know within their discipline. On another sample of tasks designed to measure the same content, students might perform somewhat differently. Information provided on the score reports enables score users to determine how much the scores could be expected to differ if a different set of tasks were used.

The reliability of the individual student total scores should be adequate for identifying deficits in student knowledge. However, these scores cannot be used as the basis for high-stakes decisions about individual students.

Every effort is made to include questions that assess the most common and important topics and skills as supported by feedback from our curriculum surveys from institutions around the United States. It does not and cannot measure all the content of interest to institutions of higher learning. When the Major Field Tests are used to evaluate an institution or any of its programs, they should be used in conjunction with other information. They should never be used as the sole means for evaluating the effectiveness of an institution or the educational progress of the students.


Comparative Data

The data in the Comparitive Data Guide are drawn entirely from institutions that use the Major Field Tests. Within any category of institutions, those that use the Major Field Tests are not likely to be representative of all programs in that discipline. In addition, the numbers of students tested and the sampling procedures vary from one institution to another, and it is impossible to verify that the students tested at each institution are representative of all the institution's students in that specific discipline.

ETS treats all score data for individuals and for institutions as confidential. Individual data are released only to the institution of the students tested. Identifiable institutional data are released only to the institution providing the data, unless the institution gives written permission to release the information to others. Institutions using the Major Field Tests should adopt a similar policy for the data from their individual students.



If a department, program or test taker has questions regarding the appropriate use of the Major Field Tests, contact an ETS Advisor.