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Detecting and treating errors in tests and surveys

Matthias von Davier (Center for Advanced Assessment, National Board of Medical Examiners, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 3 April 2018




Surveys that include skill measures may suffer from additional sources of error compared to those containing questionnaires alone. Examples are distractions such as noise or interruptions of testing sessions, as well as fatigue or lack of motivation to succeed. This paper aims to provide a review of statistical tools based on latent variable modeling approaches extended by explanatory variables that allow detection of survey errors in skill surveys.


This paper reviews psychometric methods for detecting sources of error in cognitive assessments and questionnaires. Aside from traditional item responses, new sources of data in computer-based assessment are available – timing data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and data from questionnaires – to help detect survey errors.


Some unexpected results are reported. Respondents who tend to use response sets have lower expected values on PIAAC literacy scales, even after controlling for scores on the skill-use scale that was used to derive the response tendency.


The use of new sources of data, such as timing and log-file or process data information, provides new avenues to detect response errors. It demonstrates that large data collections need to better utilize available information and that integration of assessment, modeling and substantive theory needs to be taken more seriously.



von Davier, M. (2018), "Detecting and treating errors in tests and surveys", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 243-262.



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