Nightingale Challenge Meeting: Test Blueprinting

by Dawn Oakley Whitfield, MSN, RN & Shannon Meijer DNP, RN | August 28, 2020

Prior to beginning our Nightingale Challenge session on Test Blueprinting, the comfort level and experience of the nurse educator mentees was explored via a quick survey. It was discovered that more than half of the nurse educators surveyed either used test blueprinting inconsistently or not at all. Let’s take a closer look into how test blueprinting can benefit faculty and students.

The objectives for this presentation were to:

  • Define test blueprinting
  • Understand how course content/learning objectives guide blueprint development
  • Examine test blueprint construction as a guide/map to develop your assessments

What is a Test Blueprint? 

There are thousands of ways to construct a home or building. Prior to starting a new project, an engineer will study a blueprint and envision what he/she wants the end product to look like. The blueprint serves to guide the construction and details of the building. Similarly, a test blueprint is the plan that faculty create and use when “constructing/building” a test. It provides a plan for what the test will measure. 

In order to make valid judgements about test scores, a test blueprint is advised as it incorporates a list of key components defining your tests. It reflects the content of an assessment that will be given to your students. A test blueprints can be used as a tool to guide faculty with aligning assessments of learners to the course objectives or student/program learning outcomes. Blueprints can also be used to help faculty be accountable for the education outcomes or instruction, ensuring that what is being taught is equitable to what is being tested. Lastly, blueprints can be used to assess validity of test scores. (Patil, Gosavi, Bannur, & Ratnakar, 2015).

What is the Purpose of a Test Blueprint?

Test blueprints serve a number of purposes. They define parameters before faculty begin an assessment as well as review assessment for alignment to learning objectives. Test blueprints confirm content you’re planning to assess, which also can guide instructional activities and maximize examination validity. Not only are test blueprints beneficial for faculty and the curriculum, they can also be very resourceful for students. Blueprints that are shared with students will help guide their focus and study as they prepare for exams. 

Why Administer Tests?

So, we cannot discuss test blueprinting without discussing the purpose of a test. Tests are an instrument or procedure for describing characteristics of a student and are typically scored based on a number or percentage of answers. Tests are given in an effort to provide information about a learners achievement of a course objective or mastery of an area of content. Tests can be used as a method to assess the learners’ knowledge and skills before and after instruction. Tests can also be used as a way to determine grades or admission into a program. Lastly, tests can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of course or program curriculum. By reviewing test results, faculty can identify content areas that students learned or did not learn in a course. With this information, faculty can modify the instruction to better meet student learning needs in future courses. 

When tests are administered, they should require the students to think critically. Questions should be a mix of low and high order, as demonstrated in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Tests can also be a mix of short-answer essay questions, which test the ability of students to analyze information and draw conclusions. Take-home essay questions can be written specifically to enhance critical thinking. Questions that go beyond the lecture material drive students to use lecture notes, textbooks, and other resources to answer complicated questions.

Developing a Test Plan

When developing a test plan, it is necessary for faculty to determine what pertinent information will be assessed and how many items/questions should be included on the test. Nursing educators need to also consider the style and level of questions that will be included as well as the anticipated time allotted for the learners to complete the test.

To ensure tests have representative content and objective sampling, a specified test plan should be part of course planning. Many faculty share responsibility for teaching a course; therefore, it is imperative that one person be appointed to coordinate the activities of the course so that tests are produced in a timely manner. When designing the semester’s tests, it is important to schedule tests in advance so the content covered is proportional to the weight of the test in the final grade. 

The content and objectives measured should be representative of the period covered by the test. A blueprint is the mechanism that links the content and objective to the questions on a test.

Constructing the Test Blueprint

After developing the test plan, the next steps are to begin building the actual test blueprint.  Consider using a template to easily identify which test questions correlate with the items deemed important to measure. A test blueprint can be simple, only measuring the unit/course, or it can include program objectives. It can also be even more complex by including components such as:

  • The mapping of achievements of various components of the nursing process
  • Client Needs categories based on the NCLEX test blueprint
  • QSEN competencies
  • Accreditation standards.

The cognitive level as well as the type of questions can also be identified on a test blueprint. 

In Conclusion

Faculty should create test blueprints when “constructing/building” a test because blueprints help to:

  • Guide the faculty in what will be measured on a test
  • Align the tests to the learning objectives
  • Guide instructional activities
  • Maximize exam validity.

They are also a great resource for students to help guide their focus and study as they prepare for exams. Test blueprints can help students identify what topics have greater emphasis. If you are new to developing test blueprints, start out small as you begin blueprinting your current tests/assessments. As you become more comfortable with the process, begin to add in more elements to measure.

Here are a couple of templates to consider using as you get started:


Abdellatif, H., & Al-Shahrani, A. M. (2019). Effect of blueprinting methods on test difficulty, discrimination, and reliability indices: cross-sectional study in an integrated learning program. Advances in Medical Education and Practice.

Brookhart, S. M., & Nikto, A. J. (2008). Assessment and grading in classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 

Eweda, G., Bukhar, Z. A., & Hamed, O. (2019). Quality assurance of test blueprinting. Journal of Professional Nursing.

Fliszar, R. (2009). Using assessment and evaluation strategies. In. R. A. Whittmann-Price & M. Godshall (Eds.), Certified nurse educator (CNE) review manual (pp. 89-116). New York, NY: Springer.

Patil, S. Y., Gosavi, M., Bannur, H. B., & Ratnakar, A. (2015). Blueprinting in assessment: A tool to increase the validity of undergraduate written examinations in pathology. International Journal of Applied Basic Medical Research.

Ray, M. E., Daugherty, K. K., Lebovitz, L., Rudolph, M. J., Shuford, V. P, & DiVall, M. V. (2018). Best practices on examination construction, administration, and feedback. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 82(10), 1127-1132.

Valiga, T. M.  (2017). Curriculum evaluation. In M. H. Oermann (Ed.), A systematic approach to assessment and evaluation of nursing programs (pp. 19-28). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer. 

Whittmann-Price, R. A. (2009). Facilitating Learning. In R. A. Whittmann-Price & M. Godshall (Eds.), Certified nurse educator (CNE) review manual (pp. 15-66). New York, NY: Springer.

NCLEX® is a registered trademark of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. Test names are the property of the respective trademark holders, none of whom endorse or are affiliated with Kaplan.

Dawn Oakley Whitfield, MSN has been in the nursing field for over 25 years and has experience in clinical and education settings. She received her Associate Degree in Nursing from Piedmont Community College, then went on to complete her BSN from North Carolina Central University and her MSN in Nursing Education from East Carolina University. She has served as a staff nurse in orthopedics, PACU, and radiology, as well as manager of education and infection control for a local hospital. The last 13 years of her career she has been in the education arena, first as nursing faculty, then as Director of Nursing Education in a community college setting. Encouraging, supporting and celebrating student success, mentoring and modeling excellence in patient care and implementing evidence-based practice drives her passion not only for quality patient care, but also for teaching and learning in nursing education. She is a member of the National League for Nursing and mom to her beautiful son, Andrew. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, listening to music, volunteering in the community, and spending time with family and friends. & Shannon Meijer DNP, RN, has over 28 years of nursing experience, with more than half of those years being specific to nursing education. She received her BSN from Nazareth College, MSN in Nursing Education from Walden University and her DNP in Academic Leadership from Jacksonville University. She has served in both faculty and director positions over the years and continues to teach online courses for a BSN program. She maintains active membership in the American Nurses Association, International Nurses Association, Phi Kappa PHi Graduate Honor Society and Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society. Her special interests include nursing student success from program admission to NCLEX, reducing testing anxiety, and mentoring new nurse educators. 

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