ASC 2022 Logo no tagline 300

What are enemy items?

Enemy items lego

Enemy items is a psychometric term that refers to two test questions (items) which should not be on the same test version seen by a given examinee.  This can be linear forms, but also pertains to linear on the fly testing (LOFT) and computerized adaptive testing (CAT).  There are several reasons why two items might be considered enemies:

  1. Too similar: the text of the two items is almost the same
  2. One gives away the answer to the other
  3. The items are on the same topic/answer, even if the text is different.


How do we find enemy items?

There are two ways (as there often is): Manual and Automated.Enemy items authoring

Manual means that humans are reading items and intentionally mark two of them as enemies.  So maybe you have a reviewer that is reviewing new items from a pool of 5 authors, and finds two that cover the same concept.  They would mark them as enemies.

Automated means that you have a machine learning algorithm, such as one which uses natural language processing (NLP) to evaluate all items in a pool and then uses distance/similarity metrics to quantify how similar they are.  Of course, this could miss some of the situations, like if two items have the same topic but have fairly different text.


Why are enemy items a problem?

This violates the assumption of local independence; that the interaction of an examinee with an item should not be affected by other items.  It also means that the examinee is in double jeopardy; if they don’t know that topic, they will be getting two questions wrong, not one.  There are other potential issues as well, as discussed in this article.


What does this mean for test development?

We want to identify enemy items and ensure that they don’t get used together.  Your item banking and assessment platform should have functionality to track which items are enemies.  You can sign up for a free account in FastTest to see an example.


Nathan Thompson, PhD

Nathan Thompson, PhD, is CEO and Co-Founder of Assessment Systems Corporation (ASC). He is a psychometrician, software developer, author, and researcher, and evangelist for AI and automation. His mission is to elevate the profession of psychometrics by using software to automate psychometric work like item review, job analysis, and Angoff studies, so we can focus on more innovative work. His core goal is to improve assessment throughout the world.

Nate was originally trained as a psychometrician, with an honors degree at Luther College with a triple major of Math/Psych/Latin, and then a PhD in Psychometrics at the University of Minnesota. He then worked multiple roles in the testing industry, including item writer, test development manager, essay test marker, consulting psychometrician, software developer, project manager, and business leader. He is also cofounder and Membership Director at the International Association for Computerized Adaptive Testing ( He’s published 100+ papers and presentations, but his favorite remains

Share This Post


More To Explore

Digital Badges avatar

Digital Badges

Digital badges (aka ebadges) have emerged in today’s digitalized world as a powerful tool for recognizing and showcasing individual’s accomplishments in an online format which