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How to Quickly Score Negatively Worded Survey Items

You can quickly reverse score survey items using widely available spreadsheets like Excel and Google Sheets or SPSS.

For example, the freely available scale to measure Valor/ Bravery/ Courage has 10 items rated on a 1 – 5 scale. High scores represent more of the trait. But 4 items are worded as negative statements so, you have to reverse the item scores on the negative items to obtain a correct total score for courage.

Sometimes test and survey creators refer to items as + or – keyed. Positive items are added together and the negative items must be reverse scored before adding to the total.

Survey Items Example

Following are the general directions for the 5-point rating from

Describe yourself as you generally are now, not as you wish to be in the future. Describe yourself as you honestly see yourself, in relation to other people you know of the same sex as you are, and roughly your same age. So that you can describe yourself in an honest manner, your responses will be kept in absolute confidence. Indicate for each statement whether it is 1. Very Inaccurate, 2. Moderately Inaccurate, 3. Neither Accurate Nor Inaccurate, 4. Moderately Accurate, or 5. Very Accurate as a description of you.

Here are two items from the "Courage" scale item list.

A positive or + keyed item
1. I have taken frequent stands in the face of strong opposition.

A negative or – keyed item
2. I do not stand up for my beliefs.


Suppose a participant rated number 1 as “4” and number 2 as “4” You would need to reverse the score for item 2 before calculating a total.

A simple procedure is to subtract the obtained score from the highest possible item score plus 1. The highest possible score is 5 and 5 + 1 = 6. The reverse score of item 2 is therefore 6 – 4 = 2. So, on a 5-point rating scale where 5 is the high score you would reverse the scores for each negatively worded item individually or use the formula in a spread sheet where you can use the same reverse scoring formula for all negatively worded items.

Spreadsheets and Reverse Scoring

Here’s an example of a simple spread sheet for reverse scoring. The formula in column D for positive items is simply = B3 (or whatever column and row contains the original score) and for the negative items is simply 6 – C4 (or whatever column and row contains the original score for the negative items).

Item #
Positive Scores
Negative Scores
Final Item Scores

Creating Surveys

Create better surveys for work and school


SPSS and Reverse Scoring

If you are using SPSS, you can use the Recode into Different Variables procedure on the Transform tab at the top of your spreadsheet.

NOTE: Enter all your data first, because SPSS does not update newly entered scores after you have performed the procedure.

The Recode box opens to show a list of your items such as Q1, Q2 etc.

Move the item to be recoded into the box at the right and enter a new name such as Q1rev etc.

Click Old and New Values

Enter the correct values according to your scale. For example, on a 5-point scale the reverse coding is:  1 = 5, 2 = 4, 3 = 3, 4 = 2, 5 = 1

Click Continue and OK. The new values will be listed under Q1rev etc.

Following is a link to a YouTube video showing how to reverse score in SPSS using the recode procedure. 

Connections and Links to Resources

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Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

Applied Statistics: Concepts for Counselors



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