Item Writer Screening Application
There are five parts of this application for potential item writers. Part I contains item writing instructions. In Part II, you
are asked about your commitment and availability to write questions for the examinations. In Part III, you are asked to
write three sample items. Your items will be evaluated to see how well you understood the item writing directions in
Part I, and how well you followed the item writing guidelines provided at the beginning of Part III. In Part IV, you are
asked to evaluate flawed items, correctly identify the flaws, and provide suggestions for revising the items. In Part V,
you are asked to fill out a demographics survey.
Part I. How to write a multiple-choice item for the ASWB examinations
If selected to be an ASWB item writer, you will attend a workshop that will instruct you in detail about how to write test
questions. In the meantime, in order to give potential writers enough information to put together some draft items, here are
the basic guidelines for writing a multiple-choice item:
1. Choose an area of social work to write the item about (in the testing industry, questions are called “items”). A list to select from
is provided on page 5 of this assessment document.
2. Write a brief stem,” the main part of the item that presents what is being asked. The stem should be framed in the form of a
question. The most effective items are phrased as situations or scenarios that might occur in social work practice. No extra,
unneeded information should be given.
3. Provide four options, A through D, of which only one is correct. The other three incorrect options are distractors. They should be
clearly wrong to someone who knows the material, but plausible enough to seem correct to a test-taker who does not know the
4. Punctuate your items following these directions: If an item is written as a question, end it with a question mark, and capitalize
the first word in each option. Options following a stem ending in a question mark should end in punctuation only if they are
complete sentences.
Here are a couple of samples you can use as models for your items.
The two items below are examples ASWB’s preferred item format. Notice the use of the question mark at the end of the stem, and
the capital letters at the beginning of each option.
What documentation approach is intended to provide a detailed evaluation of a social worker’s interactions with a client?
(A) Computerized progress recording
(B) Problem oriented recording
(C) Diagnostic summary
(D) Process recording
Key: D
A social worker who teaches personal safety seminars for older adults is
engaging in what type of activity?
(A) Social planning
(B) Community development
(C) Primary prevention
(D) Secondary prevention
Key: C
Some do nots.”
Do not write distractors such as “All of
the above,” “Both B and C,” or “None
of the above.”
Do not write negative questions, such
as “Which of the following is NOT a
probable diagnosis?” Do not refer to
specific theories by name unless they
are very well known.
Do not refer to the social worker as a
“therapist” or “counselor.”
Do not identify people as “Mr. A” or
“Ms. B” or by any other name.
And finally, do not use gender unless
it is significant in relation to the
knowledge being tested.
Part II: Time Commitment/Qualifications
Writing examination questions is not easy, and ASWB wants to select writers for training who have a clear understanding of
the requirements and who will complete their contracts. The selection process is very competitive, and the association wants
to choose the best, most committed writers.
Before you take the time to fill out this document, it is important to realize that it takes most people anywhere from one to
three hours to write an item and identify appropriate references. Each item does require a reference from readily available
literature appropriate to social work. This means that writers must be able to spend time consulting their own references or
finding other ways to get the references they need.
It costs ASWB as considerable amount of work and staff time preparing for the Item Writer Training. The training is
intense, although most people tell us that they enjoy the training and find it stimulating and professionally challenging.
In return for the training, writers are expected to do their best to fulfill their contracts. If selected, you must be prepared to
learn a new way of writing questions, which may be unrelated to previous writing, and you must be ready to take
constructive criticism and to work with the item development consultants. As potential writers we ask you to consider
carefully whether you have the time for working on a new skill and are willing to follow up on comments made by item
development consultants. Anyone who anticipates a change in employment or in location during the next year should keep
in mind that this may affect the time available to you for writing, and you may want to consider waiting a year to increase
the likelihood of being able to keep this commitment to the association.
The payment of $1,500 is made after an item development consultant approves 30 submitted items. After items are
approved, they are sent to the ASWB Examination Committee for review.
Part III: Writing three sample items
Writing a good multiple-choice test item is a creative process that requires ingenuity, attention to detail, and expertise in the
content area to be tested. Some basic guidelines for writing technically sound multiple-choice test items are listed below.
Review all directions and guidelines before you begin writing your sample items.
It is important to understand that the purpose of licensing social workers is to protect the health and welfare of the public.
The ASWB examinations must assess social workers’ competence to practice, not just their theoretical knowledge. Purely
theoretical questions are generally not useful; it is the application of theory that best reflects a social worker’s ability to
practice safely. Test items must be specific to social work and usually include a social worker doing something.
Consider the sample test item below.
Sample Item
A client meets with a social worker and describes not sleeping well and recent weight loss. The client reports crying easily
since an intimate partner died three months ago. What should the social worker assess for FIRST?
(A) An eating disorder
(B) Depression
(C) Anxiety
(D) A personality disorder
Key: B
Directions for Writing
Multiple-Choice Test Items
After you have reviewed all instructions and guidelines, you are ready to try
your hand at writing items.
1. Select one of the topics from the list on the next page.
2. Ask a single question, or pose a problem, on the topic you choose that has
one clearly defensible best answer. Write your item in the present tense. It
is most effective to formulate your question as a situation or scenario.
Either clearly mark or list the correct answer, or key. You may do this by
writing Key: A.
3. Include all information necessary to answer the question, but no extra
4. Develop three incorrect but plausible distractors. The incorrect distractors
must be mutually exclusive.
5. Phrase your questions in the most clear, concise way possible to direct
examinee thinking.
6. To assess social work knowledge rather than reading ability, the question
should be written in short sentences with the simplest possible vocabulary.
Note that this sample item follows the basic directions listed on the previous page. First, it covers a topic that is relevant to
social work practice. Second, it asks a single question and has a single correct answer, listed as the key. The other distractors
are plausible, but incorrect. The item is written clearly and concisely and directs examinee thinking by including only the
information necessary to answer the question. (A test of this principle is to cover up the options and read only the stem. If a
knowledgeable examinee can offer a good guess after reading only the stem, it is well-focused.) As you write your sample
items, keep these basic instructions in mind and refer back to this item as a model.
Item Writing Assignment
Develop three (3) multiple-choice test items, based on three different topics from the list below. Select topics from this list
only. Review the guidelines before you begin. Please remember to indicate the correct answer and the number of the topic
you have selected. Be sure to provide a reference that supports the correct answer.
1. Human Growth and Development
2. Concepts of Abuse and Neglect
3. Diversity, Social/Economic Justice, and Oppression
4. Biopsychosocial History and Collateral Data
5. Assessment Methods and Techniques
6. Intervention Planning
7. Intervention processes and techniques with clients/client systems
8. Professional Values and Ethical Issues
9. Confidentiality
10. Professional Development and Use of Self
Please use this page and the next two pages to write your three sample items.
Topic (see p. 4):
Type item here:
Do not write below this line. Please make sure the box below remains on the same page with your item.
ASWB Item Number
Select one...
Select one...
Topic (see p. 4):
Type item here:
Do not write below this line. Please make sure the box below remains on the same page with your item.
ASWB Item Number
Select one...
Select one...
Topic (see p. 4):
Type item here:
Do not write below this line. Please make sure the box below remains on the same page with your item.
ASWB Item Number
Select one...
Select one...
Part IV: Reviewing Items
Another important skill for item writers is the ability to detect and correct flaws in test items. Consider the example of a
non-social work item reviewed below.
Example: Flawed Item and Reviewer Comments
Washington, DC, the nation's capital, is home to all of the world’s important landmarks. Among the most
important are the Albert Pike Memorial and the K Street Lobbyists Open-Air Influence Market. It is also the
location of the White House. The White House is the official primary abode of:
(A) the Speaker of the House
(B) Godzilla
(C) the President of the United States
(D) the anxieties of a generation
Key: C
The stem contains “window dressing(e.g., it contains extraneous information, about the landmarks, that is
not necessary for a knowledgeable reader to answer the item correctly).
The stem contains biased information (e.g., the idea that Washington, DC, is home to “all of the world’s
important landmarks,” as well as the not-so-subtle dig at DC lobbyists).
The options are not homogeneous; B and D are fundamentally, conceptually different from A and C.
Only A & C are plausible occupants of the White House.
The topic is trivial, general knowledge, not something that a social worker needs to know.
Suggestion(s) for revision
If the topic is appropriate for the exam, eliminate the first three sentences (window dressing, bias, and trivia).
The stem should be rewritten as “The White House is the official residence (easier to understand than
‘primary abode’) of whom?
Make all the options political titles of people who might plausibly live or have lived in the White House, e.g.
Vice President, or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The item must be revised to test knowledge more appropriate for the purpose of the exam (less trivial).
Instructions: Review the three flawed test items on this page and the following two pages. In a few sentences,
please identify the flaws and write a complete revision of the item. The flaws may be in content, logic, or
construction. Before you begin, review again the instructions for writing multiple-choice test items, as well as the
item writing guidelines.
Flawed item 1: Bachelors Exam
Mr. And Mrs. B, who are in their 40s and have a 12-year-old son, Jason, have just lost their home in a
hurricane. They meet with a social worker at a crisis counseling center. What should the social worker
(A) Recommend the family for psychotherapy
(B) Explain that time will make them feel better
(C) Recommend family therapy
(D) Ask them to recount their experiences in detail
Key: D
Revision of item:
Flawed item 2: Masters Exam
A family sees a counselor because of concerns about their 14-year-old boy, who torments his little sister, has been
skipping school, ignoring curfews, and refusing to help around the house, and yells at his parents. Given the
above information, what should the counselor do?
(A) Recommend family therapy
(B) Focus on the scapegoating of the child
(C) Suggest a physical examination for the child
(D) Explore the triangulation
Key: A
Revision of item:
Flawed item 3: Clinical Exam
A social worker leads a group of adolescents who had been sexually abused. One tall, very pretty girl is an
outgoing seventh grade student who had been continuously abused by her father from ages five to eleven. Some
of the other group members express anger about their abuse, but this girl says that her family is very close; she
loves her family and pets. She says she feels no anger toward anyone. What should the social worker suspect?
(A) Because she has a healthy ego the impact of the abuse was minimized
(B) She may have dissociated from the abusive experience and is actually unaware of her feelings
(C) Normal adolescent concerns have taken priority over the previous abusive experience
(D) She presents a highly positive image in order to be recognized by her peers as a group leader
Key: B
Revision of item: