Administering the Test

Can students use a tablet or smart phone?

Taking a SAILS test requires either a computer or a tablet with reliable internet access and a current browser. The test does not work with smart phones.

Is it possible to have our students returned to our web server once they finish the SAILS test?

Yes, this can be done if you have someone at your location with web programming experience. On the Edit Test Information form for your administration, set Return URL to the URL on your web site to which your students should be sent once they complete the SAILS test.

The administration code (admincode) and student identifier (studentid) of the student completing the SAILS test are passed as parameters on this URL. For example, if the specified Return URL is:


the complete URL used to redirect the student once they have completed the SAILS test would be:


where ABCDEF would be your Test Key code and 123456 would be the Student Key of the student completing the test.

How can we compare groups of students?

There are different ways you can compare groups. One way is to set up custom demographic questions within one test. These could be something like, “Have you completed an Information Literacy course?” or, “In which of the following First Year Orientation classes are you enrolled?” You may create up to ten custom demographic questions, and each can have fifty responses. Be sure to phrase questions and responses in such a way that there is only one correct answer; you may need to include an “N/A” option as a response. The SAILS report will represent this information alongside breakouts for standard demographics such as class standing and major.

Another way to compare groups is to set up separate tests for the groups. This is particularly appropriate for longitudinal testing. For example, if you want to track information literacy knowledge of first year students across time, you can give a SAILS test to incoming students every year. Then you will be able to compare current incoming students with those from several years ago.

How long can I run my test?

All SAILS tests — Cohort, Individual Scores and Build Your Own Test — can be given throughout the academic year, except during blackout periods. Testing can occur from June 15 to May 30 with the exception of December 24 – January 1, when the system is offline for system maintenance.

How did other institutions…?

To find out how people at other institutions handled an aspect of SAILS testing, use the Discussions board. Log in to your SAILS account and on your Manager Dashboard you will see Discussions near the top. You can search for topics, ask a question, and provide your own perspective on previously-posted topics.


Can students return to the test to complete it?

If a student is unable to complete the SAILS test in one session, they may return to complete it at a later time by logging in with the same Student Key. Students may return to complete the test until they press the Finish button. Once completed, no further changes can be made.

Is the SAILS site up?

In the right-hand column of the Information Literacy Assessment blog you will find the Web Site Status. We update this whenever there is an unexpected outage or we are planning to perform web site maintenance.

Does an institution have to do any programming to administer the SAILS tests?

The SAILS tests require no programming. It is only necessary that your students have access to a current web browser. Students will go directly to the Project SAILS web site to take the test.

Is it possible to link students directly to the SAILS test from our web server?

Yes, this can be done if you have someone at your location with web programming ability. Once you have started a test and generated your Student Keys using the SAILS system, you can link your students directly to the test using a URL like this:


where ABCDEF is your Test Key and 123456 is the Student Key for a specific student. You will need to keep track of which Student Keys have been assigned on your web server. This is typically done using a database and a scripting language like PHP or ASP.

You can download a spreadsheet of Student Keys for your administration from the Manager Dashboard. Your test must be started before Student Keys can be generated.

NOTE: If you have elected to use a local identifier in place of the standard Student Key, for example your institutional student ID or email address, you will use this local identifier as the Student Key when creating this URL.

How long is the test?

For the Cohort test, each student answers 45 questions. For the Individual Scores test, each student answers 55 questions. Most students complete the tests within 45 minutes.

About the Test

Can we pre- and post-test our students?

Yes, pre- and post-testing is possible. The Individual Scores Test and the Build Your Own Test are good options. For educational measurement the best approach is to give the same test as the pre-test and the post-test. To avoid having the pre-test affect student responses on the post-test the recommended practice is to give the post-test after a substantial time period such as a semester, has passed.


Can our librarians/faculty take SAILS as a pilot test?

The best way to share the SAILS tests with colleagues is to use the Preview Test function which is available to test managers.

We ask that faculty and librarians do NOT take the SAILS test. The scores from a group of academic professionals would skew the databases of inter-institutional results.


How how many students should we test?

For the Cohort test, the accuracy of the average score calculation is severely affected by sample size and variability. The more students you test, the more accurate your score calculations and the smaller your standard error. In general, Project SAILS recommends testing at least 200 students to be sure that all of the demographic breakdowns (major, class standing, etc.) are sufficiently populated. The technical minimum required to close an administration is 50 students. The technical minimum for each breakout is 10 students. However with so few students the results you get will not be useful. We strongly recommend at least 50 students for each demographic breakout that is important to you and at least 200 students overall. For the Individual Scores and BYOT tests, there is no minimum number of students.

Your sample size will affect the generalizability of your results so one important question is what population are you interested in? All first year students? All students in English 101? Your entire institution? How you select the sample of students depends in part on that answer. Generalizability of results also depends on sample size. Creative Research Systems offers a handy sample size calculator.


Will I get the raw data from our testing?

If you are giving the Cohort test, you will not receive the raw data from your test. The SAILS cohort report will provide results based upon a benchmark created by comparing multiple institutions. This information will be presented graphically along with explanatory text to facilitate understanding of results. In addition to the cohort report, you will receive a data file containing the scores presented in the report plus a PDF document with a description of each test item. Please see the Cohort sample report.

If you are giving the Individual Scores test, you will receive a data file with an overall information literacy score for each test-taker along with each test-taker’s results for each item and the number correct, and summary information by major and class level. You will not get the raw data. Please see an Individual Scores  sample data file. If you are interested in using SPSS to analyze your Individual Scores data, you can download our Basic Guide to Analyzing Individual Scores Data with SPSS PDF document. Note that in addition to the data file you will also receive a report of results.

If you are use the Build Your Own Test option, you will receive a data file with an overall information literacy score for each test-taker along with each test-taker’s results for each item and the number correct. You will not get the raw data. Please see a Build Your Own Test sample data file.

Where can I find sample questions?

To see the typical format of SAILS questions, you can view several sample questions. (None of these questions are used in any of the SAILS tests.) Once you register on the SAILS web site and become a test manager you will be able to browse through the current SAILS question bank.

Can we use SAILS to test PK-12 students?

The SAILS instrument has little direct applicability to the primary and secondary school environments. We recommend the use of TRAILS which has information literacy assessments for 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades (http://www.trails-9.org/).

Are the tests customizable? If so, how?

You can customize the tests in some ways. Each test has two main parts, the introductory section with demographics and the knowledge questions. You may edit the introductory section by adding informed consent text, by tailoring the lists of academic majors and class standings to fit your institution and by creating up to ten demographic-related questions, such as, “Which Information Literacy Class have you taken?”

You cannot change the knowledge questions in any way and you cannot add or delete test questions.

Can we use SAILS to test graduate students?

Although the SAILS test questions were designed and evaluated with undergraduates, several institutions have successfully used SAILS with graduate students. The SAILS questions address basic and advanced information literacy concepts that are applicable to all levels of higher education. A good option for graduate students is Build Your Own Test where you get to select every question that appears on the test.

What are the advantages of using Project SAILS vs. other tests?

When the SAILS team first started developing the test, there were no other instruments for the standard measurement of information literacy. Since that time, other agencies have developed their own information literacy tests. However, we believe that the SAILS tests have some unique advantages to offer institutions. Please see the Advantages page to read more about them.