Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Writing effective multiple choice questions

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 7:20 AM

Unlike many people involved with higher education assessment, I'm a fan of multiple choice tests...under the right circumstances, of course.


Multiple choice tests can give us a broader picture of student learning than "authentic" assessments, and they can be scored and evaluated very quickly. And, yes, they can assess application and analysis skills as well as memory and comprehension.


The key is to ask questions that can be answered in an open-book, open-note format...ones that require students to think and apply their knowledge rather than just recall. My favorite way to do this is with what I call "interpretive exercises" and others call "vignettes," "context-dependent items" or "enhanced multiple choice." You've seen these on published tests. Students are given material they haven't seen before: a chart, a description of a scenario, a diagram, a literature excerpt. The multiple choice questions that follow ask students to interpret this new material.


The key to a good multiple choice test is to start with a "test blueprint": a list of the learning objectives you want to assess. Then write items for each of those learning objectives.


There are just two other precepts for writing good multiple choice items. First, remove all barriers that will keep a knowledgeable student from getting the item right. (For example, don't make the item unnecessarily wordy.) Second, remove all cludes that will help a less-than-knowledgeable student get the item right. (For example, use common misconceptions as incorrect options.)

Categories: Multiple choice, How to assess