© 2016 ESO. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV extended Baryonic Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (SDSS-IV/eBOSS) will observe 195 000 emission-line galaxies (ELGs) to measure the baryonic acoustic oscillation (BAO) standard ruler at redshift 0.9. To test different ELG selection algorithms, 9000 spectra were observed with the SDSS spectrograph as a pilot survey based on data from several imaging surveys. First, using visual inspection and redshift quality flags, we show that the automated spectroscopic redshifts assigned by the pipeline meet the quality requirements for a reliable BAO measurement. We also show the correlations between sky emission, signal-to-noise ratio in the emission lines, and redshift error. Then we provide a detailed description of each target selection algorithm we tested and compare them with the requirements of the eBOSS experiment. As a result, we provide reliable redshift distributions for the different target selection schemes we tested. Finally, we determine an target selection algorithms that is best suited to be applied on DECam photometry because they fulfill the eBOSS survey efficiency requirements.