Question banks: An Introduction

question bank

What is a question bank? A question bank refers to a pool of test questions to be used on various assessments across time.  For example, a Certified Widgetmaker Exam might have a pool of 500 questions developed over the past 10 years. Suppose the exam is delivered in June and December of every year, and each time 150 questions are used. This strong pool of items allows the organization to easily select questions and publish a new form of the exam each time, maintaining security and validity.

A question bank is more commonly called an item bank. It is due to the fact that the term question is not often used because many assessment items are not actually questions; they might be statements, vignettes, simulations, or many things other than the traditional question-and-4-answers.

What goes into a question bank?  Metadata.

A question bank is actually much more than the questions themselves. If you ran the Certified Widgetmaker Exam, you would want to keep track of some additional important information. This is all based on the concept of treating the question as a reusable object; if you use the item 4 times, you should never need to type/upload it 4 times. It should be in the system only once, with all its associated metadata!

What to track Examples
Which exam forms used each question Dec 2017, May 2018, May 2019, Dec 2020
Unique item ID Math.Algebra.078
Source/Reference Wilson (2016) p. 123
Status New, Under Review, Active, Retired
Statistics Classical difficulty and discrimination: Item response theory parameters
Reviewer comments Jake Smith 2020/11/22: “I think that D is arguably correct, and we need to provide greater detail in the stem.”
Content area, domain, blueprint Math / Algebra / Quadratic


The Solution: Question Banking Software

As you can see, there’s actually quite a bit of functionality and data that goes into a true question bank system. And this is only regarding the questions themselves – it doesn’t get into additional topics such as media file management, Workflow Management, Automated Item Generation, or Test Assembly & Publishing. A professional question banking software system will have much, much more than just a way to store the questions.  FastTest provides a powerful alternative solution to some older platforms on the market.

Looking for a deeper treatment of the topic? Check out the chapter Computerized Item Banking by ASC’s cofounder, C. David Vale, in the 2006 Handbook of Test Development.

Want to learn more about how question banking software can help your organization? Click here, check out this other post, or fill out our contact form for a demonstration.


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Nathan Thompson, PhD

Nathan Thompson earned his PhD in Psychometrics from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on computerized adaptive testing. His undergraduate degree was from Luther College with a triple major of Mathematics, Psychology, and Latin. He is primarily interested in the use of AI and software automation to augment and replace the work done by psychometricians, which has provided extensive experience in software design and programming. Dr. Thompson has published over 100 journal articles and conference presentations, but his favorite remains .
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