Variations on Likert scales

Likert scales use response options representing the degree of agreement. This standard set of responses (i.e., strongly agree -> strongly disagree) can be easily replaced by other descriptive terms that are relevant to the target. For example, Oxford's (1990) "Strategy Inventory in Language Learning" uses categories ranging from 'Never or almost never true of me' to 'Always or almost always true of me.' Or, in Dôrnyei and Clément's (2001) "Language Orientation Question naire" a five-point scale ranging from "Not at all true" to "Absolutely true" has been used to assess attitudes toward language learning.

While these variations usually work well, we need to be careful about how to aggregate item scores to obtain multi-item scale scores. Likert scale items that measure the same attitude can simply be summed up because they refer to the same target and it is assumed that a higher total score reflects a stronger endorsement of the target attitude. However, not every variation on Likert scales is summative in the psychometric sense. For example, in Oxford's (1990) learning strategy inventory just mentioned, the various items within a group ask about the frequency of the use of different strategies. In this case, summing up the items would imply that the more strategies a person uses, the more developed his/her strategic skills are in the particular area. However, with regard to learning strategies this is not the case, since it is the quality rather than the quantity of the strategies a person utilizes that matters: One can be a very competent strategy user by consistently employing one single strategy that particularly suits his/her abilities and learning style. Thus, in this case, the summation of different item scores is not related linearly to the underlying trait.

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