Repository logo

Subject difficulty - the analogy with question difficulty

Published version

Change log


Bramley, Tom 


This article explores in depth one particular way of defining and measuring subject difficulty - the 'IRT approach'. First the IRT approach is briefly described. Then the analogy of using the IRT approach when the 'items' are examination subjects is explored. Next the task of defining difficulty from first principles is considered, starting from the simplest case of comparing two dichotomous items within a test. Finally, an alternative to the IRT approach, based on producing visual representations of differences in difficulty among just a few (three or four) examinations, is offered as an idea for future exploration.



Evaluation of assessment, Assessment design, Question difficulty, Exam design

Journal Title

Research Matters

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Research Division, Cambridge University Press & Assessment

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL