Writing Multiple-Choice Questions: How to Succeed During the Test

Writing multiple-choice questions can be an easy task when you are aware of the fundamental principles of this type of test since sometimes it is not only the knowledge that is required but also attentiveness while reading the very assignments. The main aim of drafting multiple-choice questions is to come up with an effective way of assessing specific learning outcomes.

On the whole, multiple-choice test has the following advantages:

  • Versatility. With the help of good multiple-choice questions, one can effectively assess different learning outcomes in a variety of spheres. Specifically, multiple-choice questions may help in evaluation, analysis, and application. Even though multiple-choice questions can be used in various subjects, they have their own limitations since students are expected to choose only from the presented limited number of answers. As such, multiple-choice questions are only good when it comes to assessing general knowledge. When it comes to fluent and logical organization of thoughts or expressing some creative ideas, this kind of test is not that much efficient.
  • Reliability. Writing multiple-choice questions cause no troubles when it comes to the assessment of learning outcomes. These tests help to assess the outcomes in a fairly precise way. When comparing with true/ false questions, students are not as prone to guessing answers when writing multiple-choice questions. As such, multiple-choice tests are more reliable in terms of assessing student’s knowledge and skills.
  • Validity. Creating multiple-choice questions predetermines professors’ willingness to assess the general level of a student’s knowledge. It does not take much time for a student to answer multiple-choice questions because the questions focus on some general and broad representation of material presented over the course of studies.

If you want to enjoy all the aforementioned advantages of composing multiple-choice tests, you should definitely be aware of how to write multiple-choice questions that are properly constructed. When it comes to the structure, or mode of organization, of multiple-choice questions, they should comprise of the stem problem (formulated in the question) and a list of suggested solutions/ answers also known as alternatives. Incorrect alternatives are known as distractors.

Ten Essential Rules for Drafting Multiple-Choice Questions

  1. First, it is important to understand the type of test. Additionally, rather than rely solely on recall, it helps to have good critical thinking skills  

    Multiple-choice type questions are often criticized because they are thought to just test a student’s recall or their knowledge at a superficial level only. Nonetheless, this type of test has the potential to do more by asking the test-taker to evaluate a variety of different situations or events, describe various cause and/or effect scenarios, predict results, work out what is inferred and/or interpret statistical information or facts.

  2. It is best to place most of a question’s words in the stem

    When you are writing questions with a stem rather than writing fully worded questions, put most of the words in the stem. This makes the answer choices shorter, easier to read, and not so confusing.

  3. Test questions are best when they are worded precisely and sentence structure is simple

    If you are responsible for developing exam or test questions, it is advisable to use a structure that is simple and easy to comprehend. Additionally, you should try to use precise wording. Depending on colloquialisms and context, different words can have different meanings.

  4. Make your answer choices a similar length

    This can be difficult, but seasoned test-takers can guess the correct answer on the basis of an answer’s length. Longer answers are often the right ones. Use a mixture of long and short answers if it proves difficult to make them all the same length.

  5. Plausible distractors are recommended

    It is important that wrong answers seem credible. This can also be difficult to do, but do your best not to use implausible distractors because this can negatively affect a test’s credibility.

  6. The number of answer choices should be similar

    It is not advisable to have six choices of answer for one question and only four choices for others in any one test. Keep the number of answers consistent or equal so that participants know what to expect beforehand. There has been disagreement over what is the best number of answers, but many evaluators believe a choice of four answers is reasonable.

  7. Mix up the order of correct answers

    Try to make sure the majority of right options are not “b” and “c.” This is often the case so the best option is to spread the right answers around randomly to avoid a familiar pattern. Change the order upon completion if necessary.

  8. Tread carefully when using the options “All” or “None” of the answers.

    This rule is not popular with a lot of test designers because the “all” and the “none” options are useful when they run out of possible distractors. Still, these answers do not contribute to improving knowledge. This is because, they can be obvious give-aways if they are not used consistently. These options can also encourage students to guess at the answers if the participant feels one answer or more could be correct. An additional pitfall is that “all” or “none” does not enable an evaluator to gauge whether the participant knows the correct answer or not.

  9. Avoid double negatives

    You should not be surprised by this. The following word combinations should be avoided in questions: “no,” “nor,” “not” and the “un” prefix. For example, a question like this can confuse the reader: “Which of the following products might not be unsuitable in a fire situation?” Use the positive version instead: “Which of the following products might be suitable in a fire situation?”

  10. Avoid trying to trick test-takers

    Even though most test formats have certain faults, the purpose of each type is to assess the knowledge of participants. Hence, questions or possible answers should not be designed to trick participants. Where it is possible to read or interpret any answer in two ways or more, it is best to rewrite the question or its answer.

How to Assess the Test

Regardless of the exam type you like to use, there are some fundamental questions that will help you assess the effectiveness of multiple-choice questions. Check them out:

  1. Did I manage to test students for what I intended? If you were eager to know whether students could apply some theory or known information to a specific situation or a concept but mostly provided questions dealing with terms definition or naming some parts, then it means that you have tested students not for application but rather for recall.
  2. Did I manage to test for what I taught? If you wonder how to make multiple-choice questions in a proper way, be sure that you create the questions based on the material that you have taught. If you have taught some material mainly on the surface, then it would not be prudent to test this information.
  3. Did I manage to test the information I emphasized in the class? Make sure that the bulk of test questions is dedicated to the material that you have been focusing on most. If you have spent much time of your class discussions on some specific areas, be sure that you include that material in the test questions.
  4. Is the material I included for testing refers to the type of information I want my students to learn? If you wonder how to write test questions, keep in mind that a crucial thing is to test for some practical material. To what extent, do you think, this material will prove to be handy for your students? Will they use it somehow in the future even if they remember it? Make sure the information you test your students of has some practical implications.

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