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Developing a formal assessment is not as easy as writing items and releasing an exam to an audience. Instead, it is a painstaking process that must be carefully executed. Item-writing is only one step in the process of developing a valid exam to be used for professional decisions. However, it can be regarded as the most critical.

Typically, the development of a high-stakes exam requires 6-12 months to complete. This process requires input from many professionals who have a high degree of understanding in the subject matter areas being assessed.

The above figure shows the eight-step process that forms the basis of a continuous improvement program for high-stakes exams. As evidenced in the illustration, the process is cyclical and some steps must be revisited more frequently than others. Certifying bodies should not consider any of these steps as optional.


The Exam Development Cycle

Development Stage


Job/Task Analysis

Identify the duties and requirements of the job being performed.


Develop new test items based on relevant criteria that fulfill the examination blueprint.


Evaluate items written by others by approval, rejection, or revision.


Rate the quality of the items approved in the review process. Only the best items are selected for the exam.

Build Exam Forms

Select items to build an examination in accordance with the test blueprint.

Set Standard

Evaluate the difficulty of each item on the exam in order to establish a valid passing point.


Administer the examination to the target audience and verify the responses for scoring and quality assurance purposes.

Analyze Statistics

Evaluate the quality of the exam based on candidates' responses. Select items requiring further revision.



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