Best practices for writing good multiple-choice questions
There are some simple guidelines for constructing robust multiple-choice questions. What follows is a brief synopsis of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ that will assist you in authoring unambiguous questions that will serve as good learning and review tools by you and your peers. You should be aware that there is a large body of educational literature aimed at pedagogy, the study of effective teaching and learning methods. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and colleagues published a framework to categorize educational objectives, and this became known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The levels range from the simple recall of facts, to the ability to use information to create new knowledge. Each level of this hierarchy builds upon the lower levels. A summary of Bloom’s Taxonomy is included below the basic rules, and some suggested verbs to use for your questions will help you to categorize the questions and the level of knowledge being tested. There are some hyperlinks and references at the end which you may wish to consult for more information and examples.
First, a note about Quizzical and its optional elements. Your instructor may require you to provide either an image (generally from the images from your textbook that your instructor has uploaded to Quizzical) to associate with your question, a reference that might be useful to the test taker in exploring the question in more detail (e.g. a figure number or page from your textbook) and/or the instructor may require that you justify your answers and distractors. All of these options ARE ONLY VISIBLE after the quiz taker has attempted the question. They are displayed such that the quiz taker can see the image and associate it with the question to help them envision the subject/process being tested, and the justifications provide them with the logic of why an answer is correct and the distractors are incorrect. Providing strong justifications is an important aspect of your authorship grade, and they enable your question to become a learning tool. You’ve solidified your knowledge of the subject of your question, and now your hard work will help your peers to understand the subject. If you are required to provide justifications for your answer/distractors, keep in mind that your goal is to help someone understand why the correct answer is correct and EVERY distractor is incorrect. Thus, doing something simple like ‘Answer D is incorrect because answer A is correct.’ is useless and will result in your grade being penalized. Provide a rich (but not too wordy) description of why the answer is correct and each of the distractors is incorrect.
Lastly, you have undoubtedly attempted multiple choice questions that you felt were ‘tricky’ or ‘picky’. This may have been because they were indeed poorly written. If you adhere to the best practices outlined below, that will ensure that your question is a good one. UNLESS…..there can be an enormous number of discipline specific terms that you will need to master in most courses. Knowing the terminology is key to understanding the language and complexity of the subject. Thus, your question could be ambiguous if you don’t learn the ‘vocabulary words’ and employ them correctly. Your goal should be to construct a rigorous question, and the resources you provide (the image, reference and justifications) should allow a student that does not know the answer to learn something.