What is item banking? A career exploration with Cambridge expert Margaret Cooze

by The Assessment Network, 29 February 2024
Abstract image of Item Banking

Understanding item banking is essential for professionals involved in creating assessment content in a variety of contexts. In this blog, Margaret Cooze, a freelance language and assessment specialist with years of experience working at Cambridge, sheds light on the fundamental aspects of item banking.

Additionally, Margaret provides insight into her upcoming workshop series from The Assessment Network which will support practitioners with the theory, practice and delivery required for item banking.

What is item banking?

Item banking is a process for producing assessment content. I'm a firm believer that it has benefits over one person writing a whole exam paper (the setting approach). It offers flexibility in many areas as assessment material is produced by a team of writers and the quality assurances stages carried out early, with items then stored in a bank, ready for use when required. 

What are the key principles of item banking?

Like any writing for assessments, the principles of producing fair, valid content for test takers are essential, whether that is in a classroom setting or for more structured external purposes. In Item banking, there are multiple writers, meaning there is diversity of ideas, and less reliance on one person coming up with everything. Anyone who has written exam questions will know that it can be challenging and it’s easy to run out of ideas. As I've said the early quality assurance of material is another principle and means that some of the pressure of producing material is relieved.

Why is item banking an important skill for an assessment practitioner to possess?

Working in assessment, we need to be able to adapt to requirements, and some of those come at short notice! A new test, or a new subject even. Item banking can allow us to react to demands quickly and efficiently. There is never just one way of doing something and following the process you have always taken, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best one. With an understanding of item banking you may make your life much easier when you are under pressure, and in my experience it can make it less expensive to produce assessment material too. Always a good thing! 

What is your background in assessment relating to item banking?

I started working in assessment as a Cambridge examiner when I was still teaching as I was interested in the field. When I moved to work for Cambridge English managing the production and delivery of assessments, I met ‘LIBS’, the Cambridge Item banking system. It was a central part of our work. When I transferred to set up a new group in the International part of the organisation, I set up and ran a pilot which was successful and has led to a wider roll out. Now as a freelance consultant, I deliver training on using item banking, and have supported organisations, big and small, in setting up their own banking system. 

Are there any exciting developments in item banking which particularly interest you?

It’s hard to know where to start here! Technology has undoubtedly been the driver for many developments. Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) relies on item banking and has the potential to deliver personalised exams to individual test takers to assess them more efficiently. That’s a good thing in my view.  CAT aims to establish the level of the test taker as effectively as possible and the possibilities there are exciting. As well as that, with AI moving at speed, there is a lot of talk about how this might influence the world of assessment and I can see that would have a good fit with item banking. 

Why should someone attend your upcoming assessment practitioner workshop series?

When I was asked to deliver the first item banking workshop I couldn’t imagine many people would be interested in this area – I was wrong! It’s been really interesting talking to people from all over the world, working in different contexts sharing their views and perspectives. I've learned from them, and they certainly learn from each other. The original workshop was lengthened but now we have extended the content to three sessions and there is scope for us to include so much more. There will be time for participants to really apply the content to their context and to discuss it with colleagues. That’s invaluable.

Ready to enhance your understanding of item banking? Join Margaret Cooze's upcoming workshop series on the topic.

The Assessment Network is part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment. We provide professional development for impactful assessment.

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