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Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions
Whether by choice or necessity, many of us find ourselves testing using multiple-choice questions. However, these kinds of questions can test more than rote memory. Designed well, they can assess higher levels of cognitive ability.
Do's and Don'ts
There are a number of do's and don'ts regarding writing questions. In general, minimize the amount of reading and use words familiar to the students. The question should be clearly stated and should address a significant course item. There should be 4-5 choices with plausible distractors and one best choice. For an extended list of do's and don'ts, click here.
Beyond Just Facts
You can test levels of thinking beyond rote memorization using questions such as " which of the following best illustrates …," " what is the correct interpretation of the graph below," or "given the data in the table, what would be the best hypothesis as to the cause?"
Develop a test bank by asking questions in which changing the question would result in a different one of the same choices to be correct or keeping the same question and changing two of the choices results in a different correct answer. That way, one good test item can become four or five possible exam questions.
The statistical information generated by scanning the answer sheets can be used to critique and revise questions and possibly give additional credit when warranted. Statistics include the number of students that got the question correct, the number of students that selected each of the choices, how the upper third of the class (based on total exam performance) answered the question compared to the lower third, and, based on that statistic, how the question discriminates between high scoring and low scoring students.
Before, During, and After
Finally, consider the following. Before the exam, explain the nature of your questions, show some examples, and give practice questions from previous exams. During the exam, be available to answer student questions, clarify and rephrase exam items, and announce changes to the class if necessary. After the exam, based on the statistical analysis, review at least the most troublesome questions in class, be open to student feedback on questions, and offer the students a chance to submit justifications for their answers for possible credit. Require that the justification be clearly stated, show how the student interpreted the question and the reasoning behind the answer, and demonstrate that the student understands the concept involved. Given those criteria, only a small percentage of the class will submit arguments. It will give you additional feedback as to how your questions are interpreted by students and give the student an opportunity to construct a logical argument.
Jacobs, L. & Chase, C. (1992). Developing and using tests effectively: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University