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Choice Among Essay Topics: Impact on Performance and Validity

Bridgeman, Brent; Morgan, Rick; Wang, Ming-mei
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
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Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Advanced Placement Program (AP), Essay Tests, Item Choice, Performance Factors, Test Validity


This study assessed the ability of history students to choose the essay topic on which they can get the highest score. A second, equally important question was whether the score on the chosen topic was more highly related to other indicators of proficiency in history than the score on the unchosen topic. Overall, for both U.S. and European history, scores were about one-third of a standard deviation higher for the preferred topic than for the other topic. For U.S. history, about 32% of the students made the wrong choice, that is 32% got a higher score on the other topic than on the preferred topic. In European history, 29% made the wrong choice. In the U.S. history sample, the preferred essay correlated .40 with an external criterion score vs. 34 for the other essay; in the European history sample, the preferred essay correlated .52 with the external criterion compared to .44 for the other topic.

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