Tips for Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions

  • Base each item on an educational or instructional objective of the course, not trivial information.
  • Try to write items in which there is one and only one correct or clearly best answer.
  • The phrase that introduces the item (stem) should clearly state the problem.
  • Test only a single idea in each item.
  • Be sure wrong answer choices (distractors) are at least plausible.
  • Incorporate common errors of students in distractors.
  • The position of the correct answer should vary randomly from item to item.
  • Include from three to five options for each item.
  • Avoid overlapping alternatives.
  • The length of the response options should be about the same within each item (preferably short).
  • There should be no grammatical clues to the correct answer.
  • Format the items vertically, not horizontally (i.e., list the choices vertically)
  • The response options should be indented and in column form.
  • Word the stem positively; avoid negative phrasing such as “not” or “except.” If this cannot be avoided, the negative words should always be highlighted by underlining or capitalization: Which of the following is NOT an example ……
  • Avoid excessive use of negatives and/or double negatives.
  • Avoid the excessive use of “All of the above” and “None of the above” in the response alternatives. In the case of “All of the above”, students only need to have partial information in order to answer the question. Students need to know that only two of the options are correct (in a four or more option question) to determine that “All of the above” is the correct answer choice. Conversely, students only need to eliminate one answer choice as implausible in order to eliminate “All of the above” as an answer choice. Similarly, with “None of the above”, when used as the correct answer choice, information is gained about students’ ability to detect incorrect answers. However, the item does not reveal if students know the correct answer to the question.

From Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions by Dawn M. Zimmaro, Ph.D.

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