An application of item response theory to psychological test development

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Item response theory (IRT) has become a popular methodological framework for modeling response data from assessments in education and health; however, its use is not widespread among psychologists. This paper aims to provide a didactic application of IRT and to highlight some of these advantages for psychological test development. IRT was applied to two scales (a positive and a negative affect scale) of a self-report test. Respondents were 853 university students (57 % women) between the ages of 17 and 35 and who answered the scales. IRT analyses revealed that the positive affect scale has items with moderate discrimination and are measuring respondents below the average score more effectively. The negative affect scale also presented items with moderate discrimination and are evaluating respondents across the trait continuum; however, with much less precision. Some features of IRT are used to show how such results can improve the measurement of the scales. The authors illustrate and emphasize how knowledge of the features of IRT may allow test makers to refine and increase the validity and reliability of other psychological measures.




Zanon, C., Hutz, C. S., Yoo, H., & Hambleton, R. K. (2016). An application of item response theory to psychological test development. Psicologia: Reflexao e Critica, 29(1).

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