how many questions should be on a test

How Many Questions Should be on a Test?

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Creating tests for students is a frequent aspect of teacher life.  And studies have shown that more  teachers create their own tests as compared to using tests that have been previously created.  But sometimes it's hard to know exactly how to formulate the perfect test.  One important factor is how many questions should be on a test.

I did some research to find out what the best number of questions should be on a test and combined it with both my own school experience and teaching experience.  I came up with some great information.

So how many questions should actually be on a test?  The quick and easy answer is 20-25. While there is not one specific number that applies to all situations, there are a few factors that make it much easier to know what the best number is for your situation. 

The two greatest factors are how much time students have to complete the test and how to find the perfect number of questions to accurately represent the level of student knowledge without overburdening them.  I will go over both of these issues as well as a few other pros and cons of how many questions should actually be on a test.

how many questions should be on a test

Some Preliminary Thoughts

Generally speaking, nobody likes taking tests.  At least not the academic kind.  But since tests are a necessary part of life, the question then becomes how many questions should be on a test.

I know that for me personally, I liked more questions rather than fewer questions.  I knew that if I had mastered most of the material I could answer most of the questions correctly.  But if I got stumped by  one particularly difficult question, getting it wrong on a longer test would not be worth nearly as many points as getting it wrong on a short test.

It used to devastate  me to get one or two questions wrong on a 10-question test.  Each wrong answer would drop me by one letter grade.  The pressure was amazingly high!  I know, I was a little bit too OCD about my grades in school. But for many students, that is a big deal, especially if they are within a couple of points of a grade going up or down.

What Everybody Thinks About Testing

I mentioned above that generally speaking nobody really likes to take an academic test.  But maybe I was not exactly right about that.  Surprisingly, I found a survey taken on Gallup that talks about how students, teachers, parents, and administrators feel about the frequency of tests in the classroom.   Here is the chart recording the results:

how many questions should be on a test

What I found most surprising about this Gallop poll is that students seemed to be more satisfied with the current testing "status quo" than anyone else surveyed!

Interestingly enough, I do remember having anxiety before tests. I was afraid I would not have learned everything the teacher wanted me to learn.  But on the flip side I was also eager to see what my own level of mastery was.

So maybe these issues explain what is in play in this Gallup poll.  Maybe the students are happy that they are tested at the level they are because it allows them to gauge their own mastery.

Also, they may prefer more frequent testing because the pool of knowledge they would have to know would be smaller.

Unfortunately, beyond guessing, I can't tell you why they answered the way they did.  It would have been interesting to find out exactly why they answered the way they did.

If you are interested in checking out the rest of the Gallup poll information, click here.

So What's the Number?!?

So based on the research I did as well as my own student/teacher experience in life, I believe that the optimal number of questions on a test is 20-25.  That means that questions are worth only 4-5 points each.

When you have that many questions and get stumped, many times students can read through the other questions to get hints about the answer you are trying to get to.  It may not even be directly related to the question you are trying to answer.  Maybe the thought of those other questions remind you of the information you learned surrounding the question that stumped  you.

Arriving at this number was originally just my opinion and experience.  So then what is everyone else saying?  I did a very unscientific survey of my now adult kids.  Unequivocally they all said 25 questions rather than 10 for the same reasons listed above.

But now was that result because they are my kids and I raised them that way?  Possibly, but I don't necessarily think so because they are all post college, so they had lots of school experience outside of my world.  So I then branched my survey out to my kids' significant others, who had the same answers.

The Time Factor

As I explained in the beginning, the amount of time a student has to complete a test is critical to the number of questions on a test.  But maybe not as much as we think.  if time is short, you definitely can't create a test with 25 essay questions.  But you can utilize other forms of questions--multiple choice, short answer, or even matching terms.  I am not a fan of true/false questions for reasons I will cover in another article.

But the bottom line here is that if you don't have a large block of time to administer a test to your students, you can still do a longer form test and get a fuller picture of their knowledge level by shortening their response time.

As long as your questions are still reasonably challenging without "tricking" your students, you will still get a good understanding of their knowledge level in spite of their shortened responses.

The Well-Rounded Knowledge Factor

The other factor I mentioned with regard to how many questions should be on a test was how many questions you need to show a well-rounded knowledge mastery.  Many times 10 questions will do the job, but 20-25 will dig deeper to find out how nuanced the students' knowledge is.  Extending the questions to more than double gives the teacher a much larger ability to find the gaps in learning and then fill them in before moving on to the next material.

And when the teacher is able to fill in those gaps, the students are ready to move on knowing that they are ready.  That will make more motivated students who aren't afraid of the upcoming material!

What are the Benefits of 20-25 Questions on a Test?

The biggest benefit that I have already mentioned is that having this many questions on a test allows you to get a greater understanding of your students level of knowledge.  You can ask them questions based on a much wider cross section of information.  And then you will discover how well-rounded their understanding actually is.

Another benefit to having more questions on the test is that you will be giving the majority of your students confidence in what they are learning.  And they generally will not leave the classroom feeling like they could have either done really well or really poorly but have no idea which one it is.

When they test with a larger number of questions, they will have better intuition on how they performed on the test.  And that could help alleviate some of their anxiety while waiting for the results.  Unless, of course, you grade the tests in class during the class period.

Related Questions

How long should it take to finish a 25-question test?  

If you give students an average of 30 seconds to one minute to answer the questions, then the average time to finish a test of this size would be around 15-30 minutes.  Of course, some questions would take more time and some less.

How much time does it take to answer different kinds of questions on a test?

The average time to answer various questions on a test is as follows:

  • Multiple choice:  1 minute
  • Short Answer: 2 minutes
  • Essay Question:  10-15 minutes

how many questions should be on a test

If you liked this article, I think you will also like these other articles:

What is Inquiry-based Learning and Why Will Your Students Love It?

What is Universal Design for Learning?

The Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan:  Should We Still Be Using It?

Problem-based Learning:  Boosting Your Students' Success in the Real World


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Comments 60

  1. Interesting read, I agree with you completely 20-25mins is apt for a test. Personally I never liked the longer tests, they were just exhausting and not really effective.

  2. This was an interesting read. I’ve honestly never considered how many questions should be on a test. I always thought that teachers just sort of put as many as were needed to cover the material.

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      I always thought that too, Brianne, until it was time for me to start making tests! All of a sudden I realized how much more there was to it.

  3. As a teacher this is one of the biggest question I always ask myself. Not enough questions? Too easy? too hard? haha I always ended up making just 15-20 questions on my exams.

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      I did the same, Daniel. I was always afraid of gaps in the earlier years. Now I don’t sweat it. 🙂 And 15-20 is a good number!

  4. I never though about that, very interesting. I just know that the questions should always be related to the subject and the teacher knows that the students understood the lesson.

  5. 20-25 sounds like a reasonable amount to test a student’s knowledge on the subject. More than that and it’s overwhelming and unnecessary. Plus, more questions also means more time grading tests…

  6. Interesting! Looking at tests I am taking now and back in school/uni I understand I liked 20 questions test the most. not too long, not too short (you have a room for error, which is making you feel safer). great post and topic, very helpful for teachers

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  7. Huh, it’s like a science.

    Not that this was in middle school but in college I had this HORRIBLE multiple answer final. It was a 2 hour test with 300 questions. By the end my eyes felt like they were crossing and my brain just wanted me to start filling in any bubble so I could be DONE. Not a good way to test someone.

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      Yessss! Those tests are miserable! I had this one science test in 7th grade that was only about 50 questions but after studying my heart out, I failed it (I was a mostly A student). I was devastated. In my school we took tests until we could pass with an 80% or higher. So I studied again. Every single question and exercise in the book. And failed it again. The third time, my father went over every question in the book with me. Assured me that I knew it and would pass. And I failed again with a 76. My teacher let me move on. For whatever reason, the test was just so weirdly worded that I couldn’t do a thing about it.

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      As long as the 100 questions are quick to answer those wouldn’t really bother me. I could get 10 wrong and still get an A!

  8. That is a very interesting Gallup poll. I never would have guessed the students would have been the satisfied ones. Ha ha! For my college students I prefer more frequent quizzing and less focus on finals.

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      I love the idea of frequent quizzing instead of a heavily weighted final. And I am still shocked at the students’ response on that poll. 🙂

  9. Very interesting! The number of question should be according to time, we are used to of 3 hours exam paper with 25 objective type questions, 7-8 short answer questions and 2 Long answer question with A, B & C parts.

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  10. That was an interesting question to ask. I agreed that 20-25 questions everyday or how easy or hard is it.

  11. To be honest, I have never experienced taking a 20-25 questions on a test before but I don’t mind it as long as those questions are base on subject that we tackled. This is interesting!

  12. This is very interesting. When I had my board exam, we were only given 4 hrs to complete a 100-item computational exam. and there were 3 sets of it consecutively for 2 days. How was it? Pressure and discipline. hehe. glad you made some points here. thank you for sharing!

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  13. This is a very interesting analysis. How many teachers have actually analyzed this is a big question though. Tests are about assessing skills and knowledge and not to put students in a tight spot.

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  14. The hardest test I’ve ever taken was the ACT. With the four different sections, it took some practice with time management, destressing, and learning the materials so I could do well. I can say with certainty I never want to take a timed Mathematics test again LOL

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      I agree. I took both the SAT and the ACT and the ACT was much harder. I would never want to go back to that time in my life!!!

  15. Is good to know that for everything there is a formula. I don’t quite remember how many questions my test had,at least my school years.
    I remember my University test they were more stronger and longer. But I think that 20 questions on a school test is more than enough. It helps the students and it helps you has a teacher.

  16. im not a huge fan of tests and so glad that i have got all my studies out of the way with! the less questions, the better lol

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  17. That is so funny, right when I read the question, I immediately thought to myself 25. haha. 10 for quizzes and 25 for tests. Great reasoning behind why those are good numbers to have.

  18. I so agree with you, if the test had lesser questions I might have made it in school. Or atleast divide the test into to several smaller parts, that would have worked to

  19. Wow! This is a great topic as we are going to the new norm of online schooling. Every school and teacher should consider your arguments here as it is very logical and rational to do. Thanks for sharing this to us.

  20. According to me the number of questions totally depends on the subject as well as on time basis. This is very useful and detailed article every teacher needs to read this article.

  21. How interesting how there is a science to almost everything, including tests. Like some of your commenters, I too thought that you just include however many questions are necessary to cover material that is covered in class.

    When I was in college, my friend and I were always competing to see who finished a test first..fun memories.

  22. This is very interesting! When I was in school, I’ve always hated long exams. It gets too boring when you have over 100 test questions, and I thought 20-30 should be more than enough.

  23. I always hated long exams. The risk of making mistakes towards the end of the test is high because you are already mentally exhausted. I agree with you that 20-25 questions is ideal. The duration of the test would depend on the type and subject.

  24. Is good to know that he has to be 20 to 25 questions in each test. I’m remember that my mom used to make test because she was a teacher and I remembered that was exactly some of the numbers that she used to have for the questions.

  25. It’s great to see how you effectively utilize questions to also find out if there are gaps in knowledge. This will be very useful in figuring out the best way to support and review them on the topic.

  26. The time factor is indeed very important when you decide how many questions a test will have. If students need to solve complicated mathematical problems, then of course 20 questions would be too much for a 50 minutes test. If they need to pick the correct answer only then 25 might be too little.

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