A cut above: Standard setting and cut scores for beginners

Published on:

April 12, 2017

Read time:

3 minutes

How you set your cut score will depend on your assessment

What do qualified candidates need to know?

Exams and assessments come in all shapes and sizes using a wide variety of question types and formats to measure the competency of candidates. An important step in designing any assessment is deciding what knowledge, skills and abilities are required for a candidate to be considered “competent.”

Cut scores are a selected point on the score scale of your test used to determine which candidates have demonstrated sufficient competency to pass the exam and, in the case of certification and licensure exams, enter their chosen profession to serve the public.

Clients often ask what the best or most common method is for setting a defensible cut score. The short answer is that there is no single best or preferred method. It all depends on your assessment, your competency profile, and the stakes of your exam.

Setting your cut score

When choosing the standard setting method to apply to an exam, consider the following factors:

  • Purpose of the exam
  • Item (question) and exam format
  • Number of performance categories
  • Stakes associated with setting a cut score
  • Logistical factors.

Taking these factors into account, you may choose to use one of many accepted methods of standard setting, such as the Angoff or Modified Angoff Method, the Ebel Method, the Nedelsky Method, the Borderline Group Method, and the Contrasting Group Method. Yardstick psychometricians are trained and experienced in each of these methods, and can walk you and your subject matter experts through each stage of the standard setting process.


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Our Senior Psychometrician Dr. Chris Beauchamp, PhD. has written a handy backgrounder to explain one method, the Ebel Method, in greater detail. In this resource, he explains when to use the Ebel Method, and breaks down the steps that must be taken to implement it.


Download Dr. Beauchamp’s backgrounder here, or visit our Resource hub to browse our growing library of online testing and training guides, articles, webinars and white papers.


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