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Measurement of Writing Ability at the College-Entrance Level: Objective Vs. Subjective Testing Techniques

Huddleston, Edith M.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Construct Validity, Essay Tests, Holistic Evaluation, Interrater Reliability, Measurement Techniques, Objective Tests, Verbal Ability, Writing Evaluation


The investigation points to the conclusion that, in the light of present knowledge, measurable "ability to write" is no more than verbal ability. It has been impossible to demonstrate by the techniques of this study that essay questions, objective questions, or paragraph-revision exercises contain any factor other than verbal; furthermore, these types of questions measure writing ability less well than does a typical verbal test. The high degree of success of the verbal test is, however, a significant outcome. The results are discouraging to those who would like to develop reliable and valid essay examinations in English composition--a hope that is now more than half a century old. Improvement in such essay tests has been possible up to a certain point, but professional workers have long since reached what appears to be a stone wall blocking future progress. New basic knowledge of human capacities will have to be unearthed before better tests can be made or more satisfactory criteria developed. To this end the Educational Testing Service has proposed, pending availability of appropriate funds, a comprehensive factor study in which many types of exercises both new and traditional are combined with tests of many established factors in an attempt to discover the fundamental nature of writing ability. The present writer would like to endorse such a study as the only auspicious means of adding to our knowledge in this field. Even then, it appears unlikely that significant progress can be made without further explorations in the area of personality measurement.

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