Table of Specifications
What is a Table of Specifications?
A Table of Specifications is a two-way chart which describes the topics to be covered by a test and the number of items or points which will be associated with each topic. Sometimes the types of items are described, as well. A simple table might look like this:
Quiz 2: The Great Gatsby
Facts About the Book (e.g. Author, Influence)
Characters and Events
Number of Questions
A more detailed table might look like this (adapted from Chase, 1999):
Unit 1 Exam: Amoeba
Bloom's Taxonomy Cognitive Level
Analysis or Synthesis
The purpose of a Table of Specifications is to identify the achievement domains being measured and to ensure that a fair and representative sample of questions appear on the test. Teachers cannot measure every topic or objective and cannot ask every question they might wish to ask. A Table of Specifications allows the teacher to construct a test which focuses on the key areas and weights those different areas based on their importance. A Table of Specifications provides the teacher with evidence that a test has content validity, that it covers what should be covered.
Designing a Table of Specifications
Tables of Specification typically are designed based on the list of course objectives, the topics covered in class, the amount of time spent on those topics, textbook chapter topics, and the emphasis and space provided in the text. In some cases a great weight will be assigned to a concept that is extremely important, even if relatively little class time was spent on the topic. Three steps are involved in creating a Table of Specifications: 1) choosing the measurement goals and domain to be covered, 2) breaking the domain into key or fairly independent parts- concepts, terms, procedures, applications, and 3) constructing the table. Teachers have already made decisions (or the district has decided for them) about the broad areas that should be taught, so the choice of what broad domains a test should cover has usually already been made. A bit trickier is to outline the subject matter into smaller components, but most teachers have already had to design teaching plans, strategies, and schedules based on an outline of content. Lists of classroom objectives, district curriculum guidelines, and textbook sections, and keywords are other commonly used sources for identifying categories for Tables of Specification. When actually constructing the table, teachers may only wish to use a simple structure, as with the first example above, or they may be interested in greater detail about the types of items, the cognitive levels for items, the best mix of objectively scored items, open-ended and constructed-response items, and so on, with even more guidance than is provided in the second example.
How can the use of a Table of Specifications benefit your students, including those with special needs?
A Table of Specifications benefits students in two ways. First, it improves the validity of teacher-made tests. Second, it can improve student learning as well.
A Table of Specifications helps to ensure that there is a match between what is taught and what is tested. Classroom assessment should be driven by classroom teaching which itself is driven by course goals and objectives. In the chain below, Tables of Specifications provide the link between teaching and testing.
Objectives Teaching Testing
Tables of Specifications can help students at all ability levels learn better. By providing the table to students during instruction, students can recognize the main ideas, key skills, and the relationships among concepts more easily. The Table of Specifications can act in the same way as a concept map to analyze content areas. Teachers can even collaborate with students on the construction of the Table of Specifications- what are the main ideas and topics, what emphasis should be placed on each topic, what should be on the test? Open discussion and negotiation of these issues can encourage higher levels of understanding while also modeling good learning and study skills.
- Chase, C.I. (1999). Contemporary assessment for educators. New York: