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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. The amount 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?”

  1. 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.