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Item Writer Job Facts. How to Become a Test Question Writer

Learn how you can leverage your love of writing into a new career or side gig as an item writer for digital learning assessments or certification exams.


If you’re a writer looking for a new career in digital learning, Item Writer should be on your list of opportunities to explore. Item writers are in demand for 2022, as our experience connecting digital learning professionals with corporate and educational organizations proved. These skilled writers play a vital role in assessment development and certification exam development.

If you like to write and have some experience in education, tutoring, or training, this might be the job for you. Even if you don’t have education experience, you could be a competitive candidate if you have subject matter expertise in a certifiable area. Ultimately, many career paths can help you land a role in assessment development as long as you have the writing skills to complement your experience.

Before you make the leap, you probably have a lot of questions. Like what does an item writer actually do, and what skills can help you get the job?

What Does An Item Writer Do?

Item writers write questions for tests or certification exams. They either work with subject matter experts to gather the information they need or they are subject matter experts in their own right. Using learning standards, they create assessment questions and often integrate them into existing learning management systems.

In the corporate space, you may hear them called certification exam developers. Test development companies may call them question writers or assessment writers. Ultimately, all of these roles require strong writing and editing skills and familiarity with assessment design.

Who Hires Item Writers?

Both education and corporate organizations need item writers, including education publishers, associations that certify professionals, and test development companies like PSI Services, ETS, or the College Board. Basically, any organization with a goal of teaching people or preparing them for a test is likely to need item writers at least some of the time.

What Is The Work Environment For Assessment Writers?

Most item writers do the bulk of their work alone. They connect with SMEs or course designers, but ultimately, the work happens between them and their computer. Remote work arrangements are common and some writers are hired on a contract basis.

You may need to learn proprietary software or be familiar with common content and learning management systems to succeed as a test prep writer. Work arrangements tend to be flexible, but pressing deadlines and heavy workloads are common. You might contribute to a bank of items for a particular exam, or craft an entire assessment. And don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, test questions and prep materials are often proprietary.

Would I Be A Good Item Writer?

Do you love language and appreciate the written word? Does helping students and professionals prove their knowledge or get certified feel like fulfilling work? Are you comfortable working independently but contributing to the success of a team? If you answered yes to all of those questions, a role in assessment writing might be right for you.

If you already have subject matter expertise in a topic like the banking industry, accounting or medicine, you’re already part way there. Expert-level knowledge of topics like computer networking, psychology, or human resources can also help you find certification exam developer roles.

Even without that kind of technical knowledge, you can be a great item writer if you can write clearly and enjoy research.

What Do You Need To Become One?

Many item writers either have an English degree, education, or editorial background. Some have specific technical knowledge or industry expertise. The common thread is writing and editing skills and a willingness to learn how to structure questions to support learners. They need to be able to write clear sentence stems, answers, and distractors.

Many test prep writers come from teaching or curriculum development roles. After all, both teachers and curriculum developers are often responsible for writing assessment questions even if just for their own classes. However, subject matter experts in a range of industries also make great test prep writers. They already have the knowledge they need to craft relevant, effective test questions.

Ultimately, to be successful in this role, you need to enjoy writing and find satisfaction in crafting clear sentences.

Education Level Requirements

The education level required for Test Prep roles depends on who you’re writing for. In most cases, your education must meet or exceed the level of the students. For example, if you’re writing questions for nursing students in graduate school, you may be expected to have a graduate degree. If you’re writing ACT and SAT prep questions, you might only need an associate’s degree. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree in a writing-related field should be ideal for most roles.

If you make the extra effort to earn a certification in assessment and evaluation or in curriculum design and assessment, this could give you an advantage in your job search. However, most employers won’t require it.

Keep in mind that item writers who develop questions related to specific certification exams often hold those certifications themselves.

Where This Job Could Take You

For some, item writing is a lifelong career. For others, it’s a learning opportunity they can leverage into a role in test development management, instructional design, or curriculum development.

If you have an undergraduate degree in writing or journalism and want to transition to education, this could be the career for you. If you already work in education and want to eventually transition to design and development, this might be the right role for you. It also makes a great side gig for anyone with strong writing skills.

Prepare For Your Job Search

Start revamping your resume with an eye toward those skills that item writers need most.

• Writing

• Proofreading

• Editing

• Assessment design

Content development

• Standards alignment

• Research skills

• Quality control

• Proficiency with digital tools and remote collaboration

Make sure you include any education or certifications that highlight your qualifications. Mentioning publications, writing awards, or exams you’ve prepared can reassure an employer you’re right for the role.

Be prepared to show writing samples and don’t be surprised if you’re asked to write a sample question or two as part of the application process.

Teamed is here to help you find your next job as an item writer or whatever role you’re seeking in digital learning. Check out our job board or contact us today.

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