Some Practical Thoughts on Developing Multiple Choice Questions

This image, originally posted to Flickr, was reviewed on 5 January 2014 by the administrator or reviewer Chenzw, who confirmed that it was available on Flickr under the stated license on that date.Multiple Choice questions are common because they are easy to grade.  And while assessment theory has a lot to say about making tests that are reliable and valid, for most teachers in a classroom who wants to make their own tests, they won’t do all of that work.  So here are some practical thoughts for teachers on how to improve the creation of their multiple choice tests:


The number one question you should ask yourself when you are thinking about what to ask of students, is “How likely will the students use this knowledge or skill in their lives?”  If it is likely they won’t use the knowledge often, then it is not as important to assess! Most of the other advice I have to give is an offshoot of this.

Only Ask Trick Questions when They are Relevant

Asking questions to only try to trick students is generally not nice.  But, if the topic you are teaching has a subtle or tricky point that is relevant to students, then it is good to ask trick questions.  For instance, I have taught computers for many years, and in Microsoft Windows the button called “Minimize” actually hides a window, while the button called “Restore Down” makes it smaller.  This is confusing to students as it doesn’t follow what the words would seem to mean.  Thus, it is an important question to ask students, as it is relevant because it is tricky.

It is OK to have Answers that are Close or Subtly Different from Each Other

You don’t want to have answers that are clearly wrong, as this takes away from the validity of the test, since students have better odds of guessing when there is clearly a bad answer.  Also, having subtly different answers helps to encourage deeper critical thinking on the topic.  Just make sure that you write the differences in a clear manner, as it is easy to accidentally write ambiguous answers, where more than one might be considered correct from legitimate points of view.

Avoid Ambiguous Questions/Answers

As mentioned, if more than one answer you write in the multiple choice could be legitimately considered correct, then it is a bad multiple choice question.  For example, in computers, the CPU technically refers to the main processor inside the computer, but it is not uncommon for people to refer to the entire case as the CPU.  So if a multiple choice question was to ask what a CPU was, it would not be good to include “the case of the computer” as a potential answer.

Use the Quiz / Test as a Learning Tool

Neurological studies are showing that when students quiz themselves of materials they remember the material better.  This also means that when you give a real test or quiz, students will tend to remember the answer into the future, especially because if they get the question wrong, they likely will have an emotional feeling, which also improves retention.  Thus it is even more important to make sure the quiz or test includes the most relevant material as possible, so that it will have the most benefit to the student’s future.

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