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.

The GESIS Pretest Lab supports researchers in optimizing their survey questions prior to data collection with various services. In addition, we provide researchers access to the findings of our cognitive pretests via the GESIS pretest database.

In cognitive pretests, we evaluate the comprehensibility of questions, identify problems respondents may have in answering, and generate constructive suggestions for eliminating such problems. The pretests can be conducted in person, by phone, or by video conference. The questions can be tested in all common survey modes (face-to-face, phone, paper-and-pencil, online).

Optionally, cognitive interviews that take place in the laboratory, can be supplemented by eye-tracking. This offers the possibility to follow and record (live) the eye movements of subjects. Our research findings suggest that this procedure helps to discover additional problems with questions (Neuert & Lenzner, 2015a, 2015b).

How do we conduct cognitive pretests?

  • With small samples of 10 to 30 participants
  • The individual interviews are limited to approx. 60 minutes
  • Approx. 20 questions or items can be cognitively tested during an interview

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.

How do 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 

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. 


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:

Bitte beachten:

Kontaktieren Sie uns bitte so früh wie möglich, damit wir Ihren Pretest in unserer Planung berücksichtigen und Ihnen Zeiträume verbindlich reservieren können. 

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