I think I was about 7 years old when I encountered a multiple choice test for the first time in life. It was a general knowledge exam. And man, I just loved it! It was much easier and quicker to recall and spot the right answer from a list of choices than writing a descriptive answer. In-fact, most students prefer multiple choice questions for the same reason. They are a popular method of assessment with educators too, primarily because of their scoring ease and reliability, and their ability to test various levels of learning outcomes. However, in order to get the most out of multiple choice questions, they need to be constructed well, without any ambiguity.
There are some best practices that you can follow to ensure you are creating good multiple choice questions; but before that, let’s quickly talk about the anatomy of a multiple choice question.
Anatomy of Multiple Choice Questions
Any multiple choice question consists of a problem statement (the question itself), which is known as the stem, and a list of possible answer options, known as foils. The correct foil is called the key. And the incorrect ones are known as distractors. When stem and foils come together, they form an item.
Now that you are familiar with the anatomy, let’s look at some basic guidelines that form the base of good multiple choice tests.
Clearly define the stem
The stem must be clearly defined and should include the main idea. Students should understand what the problem is without having to read the foils and even if they don’t know the right answer.
Use a single-dimensional stem
A good stem is single-dimensional i.e. it tests the learner only on one concept. If the intention is to quiz learners on multiple concepts, do that through multiple items.
Avoid using negative verbiage in the stem
Avoid the use of negative words like ‘not’ or ‘except’ in the stem unless a learning outcome specifically requires them. If at all you use them, ensure these are highlighted by bolding, CAPITALZING, or underlining to avoid any confusion.
Use homogeneous foils
All foils should ideally be similar in length and parallel in form to avoid attracting responses to a particular foil because it stands-out.
Use mutually-exclusive foils
The foils should be mutually-exclusive and not overlapping with each other. They should not be formed with an idea to trick the students but rather, assist in unbiased testing of their knowledge.
Avoid linking the stem to the key
Avoid linking the stem to the answer by using intentional clues like the use of ‘a’ and ‘an’ in the stem. For instance, if a stem ends with ‘an’; students will figure out that the correct answer begins with a vowel.
Use plausible distractors
Distractors should be plausible in order to serve their purpose. Unreasonable and give-away distractors just spoil the test’s validity. Common student errors are the best source when it comes to forming distractors.
Avoid using ‘all of the above’ and ‘none of the above’ as foils
Students just need to recognize two correct options to get the answer correct if you use ‘all of the above’ as a foil. For ‘none of the above’, you will never be able to figure out if the student knew the correct answer.
Multiple choice questions, although highly effective to test factual recall and even higher-order thinking at times, are very time consuming to construct. Writing these could be a daunting task for many educators. If you are frequently tasked with creating them, you might find a great aid in Quillionz. It is an AI-powered question generation tool which can produce hundreds of question ideas and ample distractor options, from a content set in a matter of few seconds. So, if you are tasked with creating a multiple-choice test, try out Quillionz for free here.