5 tips for writing multiple choice questions

I was struggling to write multiple choice questions for a course until I reminded myself of the key rules for writing these tests.

#1 Keep the answers as short as possible

If the question needs a lot of text put most of it in the question introduction or stem. This allows you to keep the answer options short, which is less confusing for the student and easier to choose from.

#2 Ensure all the distractors are plausible

It’s sometimes difficult to come up with reasonable sounding distractors, but this is essential. The wrong answers should sound plausible or it’s too easy to spot the correct one. Distractors should have the same kinds of vocabulary and sentence structure if at all possible.

#3 Make all answer choices the same length

Anyone who’s tried gaming multiple choice tests knows that if there’s one answer much longer than all the others it’s likely to be correct. Ensure distractors are the same length. If you can’t make them all the same, have two short and two long.

#4 Avoid unclear language

Avoid unclear language, such as double negatives and longwinded clause sequences, that might catch students out.  Ensure sentences are very clear and structured as simply as possible to avoid misunderstandings.

#5 Mix up the order of the correct answers

This is one I find I get wrong all the time!  My correct answers always end up in the same place (usually c) and I have to go over the test again to move them around. The correct answers should be in completely random positions with no perceptible pattern. Happily Moodle Quizzes and other quiz software have a setting which randomises the order of the answers if you remember to set it.

Just reminding myself of these guidelines improved my quiz immeasurably! The next step is to get a reality checker to look at the whole course and feed back on the effectiveness of the materials AND the quiz.