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Cognitive Pretesting

In survey research, conducting a pretest is generally considered an indispensable prerequisite for the successful development of a questionnaire and thus for the quality of the data collected in the survey.

With the services of our GESIS pretest laboratory, we support you in optimising your questions and survey instruments. You can also access results of cognitive pretests conducted at GESIS via the GESIS Pretest Database.

Conducting Cognitive Pretests

In cognitive pretests, we examine the comprehensibility of questions for you, identify problems respondents have in answering them and offer you concrete suggestions for improvement. The pretests can be conducted face-to-face, by telephone, in writing or online. 

Through the additional use of eye-tracking, respondents' eye movements while answering a questionnaire can be tracked and recorded (live). Our research results indicate that this can identify further problems with questions (Neuert & Lenzner, 2015a, 2015b). 

This is how we conduct pretests:

  • With small case numbers: 10 to 30 test subjects.
  • The individual interviews are scheduled to last about 60 minutes
  • Approximately 20 questions or items can be cognitively tested in the course of an interview.

Conducting Cognitive Online Pretests (Web Probing)

Cognitive online pretests are an alternative to pretests conducted in the lab. Here, probing questions normally asked in an interview, are implemented in an online questionnaire. With the probing questions used it is possible, for example, to determine whether all respondents interpret a question in the same way or whether there are systematic differences in the understanding of a question between different groups of respondents.

This is how we conduct cognitive online pretests:

  • With samples of 100 to 120 participants
  • The online questionnaires are designed to take approx. 15 minutes to complete
  • Per questionnaire, we are able to test approx. 10 questions or items 

Coordination of Cognitive Pretests

Comparative surveys are increasingly being conducted in different countries and/or languages. We carry out cross-cultural cognitive pretests for projects of this kind, which can involve training cognitive interviewers in the participating countries, coordinating the pretests in the countries and analyzing the results of the cognitive interviews cross-nationally. 

Consultation Fee

Advice on the selection and independent application of different pretesting methods is provided free of charge. The costs for conducting pretests are project-specific and depend on the number of test persons, the number of questions to be tested and the pretesting method used.


Duration of cognitive pretests (with/without eye tracking): Cognitive pretests are usually conducted with 16 test persons. We usually calculate a period of 8 to 10 weeks for the planning, implementation and evaluation of a pretest, including the transmission of a written report of the results.

Duration of online cognitive pretests: Usually, online pretests are conducted with a sample size of 100 to 120 test persons and 10 questions/items to be tested. We usually calculate a period of 5 to 6 weeks for the planning, implementation and evaluation of such a pretest, including the transmission of a written report of the results.

Our varied client list thus far includes a number of externally funded research projects, in addition to the following survey programs, institutes and agencies:

Please note:

Please contact us as soon as possible, so we can consider your pretest in our planing and will block binding time slots.