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20 tips on writing good multiple-choice questions for your next exam

Terms used in multiple choice questions

Multip-choice terms

Tips for writing multiple-choice question “items”

  1. Test for a single, clearly defined learning outcome for the course
  2. Be concise and clear
  3. Use vocabulary at the students’ level and check for misspellings
  4. Order items by difficulty, use Bloom’s Hierarchy to support this
  5. Avoid letting the item give a hint for other items

Tips for writing question “stems”

  1. Provide a complete direct question
    1. The President of the United States during World War I was ___________?(less effective)
    2. Who was President of the United States during World War? (more effective)
  2. Include only relevant information
  3. Be brief and avoid unnecessary complexity
  4. Ask for the correct answer, not the wrong answer
  5. Avoid absolute terms such as always, never, or all
  6. Avoid vague terms such as seldom, few, or many
  7. Provide most of the information allowing for shorter options

Tips for writing “options”

  1. Use at least three options to mitigate guessing, more if you can meet tips 14-20
  2. Ensure each multiple choice question distractor is plausible and is parallel to the answer
  3. Check that there is only one right option
  4. Avoid all or none of the above
  5. Mix up the correct answer position
  6. Follow a logical order (e.g., numerical or chronological)
  7. Keep options similar in length
  8. Ensure options don’t overlap

Happy grading,

Mark from GradeHub

Zimmaro, Dawn M (2004). Writing Good Multiple-Choice Exams. Retrieved September 4, 2015 from University of Texas Web site at https://ctl.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/writing-good-multiple-choice-exams-04-28-10.pdf

Burton, Steven J. et al. How to Prepare Better Multiple-Choice Test Items: Guidelines for University Faculty. Retrieved September 4, 2015 from Brigham Young University Web site at https://testing.byu.edu/handbooks/betteritems.pdf