The 3 Best Tips for Writing Effective Multiple Choice Questions

by | Nov 22, 2017

Multiple choice questions can be used as a quick way to diagnostically assess a student’s recall and understanding for a particular subject. Here are some guidelines for writing effective multiple choice questions to diagnose prior learning of concepts or theory.

1. Keep it simple

Try to remove extra reading which may be confusing or distracting from the questions. Don’t provide information that could be used later in the assessment. Also, watch out for grammatical clues which give away the correct answer. Make sure you have only one correct answer, but that your other answers are just as plausible.

Good ExampleFood travelling through the digestive tract passes from the stomach to the: 

  1. small intestine
  2. large intestine
  3. oesophagus
  4. epiglottis

Bad ExampleFood travelling through the digestive tract passes from the stomach, a large muscular sac located directly under the diaphragm which produces acid to the:

  1. small intestine
  2. large intestine
  3. oesophagus
  4. epiglottis
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2. Avoid Using Negatives

Avoid using negatives like “Not” when writing effective multiple choice questions. If students are familiar with the material then negative wording can confuse them because they don’t initially observe it. As a result, they can make mistakes on negatively-worded questions they wouldn’t otherwise make.

Good ExampleWhich of the following is located near the mouth?

  1. small intestine
  2. large intestine
  3. epiglottis
  4. stomach

Bad ExampleWhich of the following is not in the abdominal cavity?

  1. small intestine
  2. large intestine
  3. epiglottis
  4. stomach

3. Organize Your Questions

Arrange your answers alphabetically, in increasing size (numerical) or in time sequence. Present your answers vertically as this is easier to read than horizontally

Good ExampleWhich organ produces acid to digest food?

  1. small intestine
  2. large intestine
  3. epiglottis
  4. stomach

Bad exampleWhich organ produces acid to digest food?

a. small intestine b. large intestine c. epiglottis d. stomach

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What Else to Look Out For

When writing effective multiple choice questions, there are definitely other things you should consider. Here is a summary of the best practices in the Jim Sibley’s Faculty Focus article Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Multiple-Choice Questions:

  • Check for grammatical consistency.
  • Keep the options similar in length and level of detail.
  • The question should ask students to discriminate the options along the same discrimination dimension related to the specific criteria described in the question stem.
  • Review and revise questions to eliminate word repeats, if possible.
  • Avoid absolute words and substitute words that require more judgment (which is the best, which is least likely).
  • The most common location for the correct answer is C or D. Review the entire test so that C and D do not appear as the correct answer too often.
  • Students will often select the answer that combines the most elements of all the options. Review your finished question to see if you can use the convergence strategy to get inferences of the correct answer.

Additional Reading

 

 

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