Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Assessment Strategies/Questions

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Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Heather Campbell

Questioning Questions[edit]

Learning Targets and Goals

  • Identify types of multiple choice questions
  • Define some guidelines for creating multiple choice questions. .

Multiple choice questions[edit]

Multiple choice questions are questions with multiple specific choices. The questions may have multiple correct answers or only one.


There are many positive points to multiple choice questions. The questions are easy to grade and can even be done by a computer using a scantron system. Even with out a computer a teacher can grade a large amount of tests in a short amount of time allowing more time for teaching and planning. They reduce bias as there is a finite right and wrong answer, all questions are graded on the same scale. Tests can even be graded with out any knowledge of who the student is. Questions can be formatted to asses a large amount of knowledge in a short time. The questions easily asses knowledge while allowing for application and reasoning questions as well.


There are also negatives associated with multiple choice questions. The questions can be hard to form, and time consuming to create. The questions have to be written to where every student can understand and come up with the answer. Questions can leave no room for students to extend their answers.

In the End

Due to large class sizes and limited teaching resources multiple choice questions are the tests of the future. It is very important for educators to learn how to create multiple choice questions that can test a wide range of student abilities.

Classifying Questions[edit]

Multiple choice questions are classified in two ways. The first way is how a question is asked, the second is what the question is asking.


According to the teaching effectiveness program form the University of Oregon there are five types of multiple choice questions used to elicit critical thinking.

  • problem/solution evaluation - show how a student has responded to a problem and then choose if the response is appropriate.
  • incomplete scenario - using a diagram or writing leave parts out of the whole and ask to fill in the blanks.
  • case study - using an elaborate example or chart multiple questions can be created.
  • analogy - using two different elements to compare things.
  • premise-consequence - requires students to determine outcome of a given problem.

(Cooper, 2000)


Blooms taxonomy describes different learning targets physiological definitions as to what kind of information the question is asking.

  • Knowledge - the ability to memorize and recall.
  • Comprehension - the ability to comprehend the jest of the material.
  • Application - the ability to use knowledge in novel situations.
  • Analysis - the ability to divide things into parts.
  • Synthesis - the ability to create a novel idea from analysis parts.
  • Evaluation - the ability to judge material.

(Carneson, Delpierre, and Masters, 1996)

Bloom's Taxonomy Verbs List

Each question style elicits different understandings of the material. Multiple choice questions Bloom found were mainly knowledge. Educators looking to enrich students ability to problem solve and apply knowledge to everyday situations should focus on a more diverse testing. Synthesis by definition does not lean its self towards multiple choice questions.


Why is knowing how to ask questions and what questions ask important?

A good test will have variety in the questions it asks as well as having questions that test the students skills. If a test is all knowledge questions than a student that has little knowledge of the topic but can recognize words might still be able to pass. By mixing in application, reading, and analysis questions a teacher can more adequately reward students for their knowledge on the topic. In the box above there is a chart of Bloom's verbs can help teachers determine what a level of question a teacher has written.

A question should only have one answer that can be determined correct. When there are multiple right answers it can confuse even knowledgeable students. Putting answers in alphabetical order will help limit patterns in correct answers.


1. What caused World War One?
  • a. Assassination of Franz Ferdinan.
  • b. Democratic nations fear of Communism.
  • c. Treaties of nations.
  • d. Trade in global economy.

All of the answers in the question can be considered causes of World War One making the question difficult to answer. If the question asked instead What event sparked World War One? it would lead student to pick A as the correct answer.

Carnet Reference system lists ten golden rules for writing multiple choice questions.

  • 1. Examine only the important facts!

Questions should be geared towards the learning targets.

  • 2. Use simple language!

Errors can confuse students, the test should test the material not the students vocabulary.

  • 3. Make the questions brief and clear!

Getting rid of the fluff helps students understand what the question is asking.

  • 4. Form the questions correctly!

Bad grammar can set students off to a wrong answer.

  • 5. Take into consideration the independence of questions!

Questions should not be able to be used to answer another question.

  • 6. Offer uniform answers!

Uniform answers in length prevents students from using answer construction from picking the right answer.

  • 7. Avoid asking negative questions!

If you must use a negative question make sure to Emphasis NOT so as not to confuse the student.

  • 8. Avoid distracters in the form of "All the answers are correct" or "None of the answers is correct"!
  • 9. Distracters must be significantly different from the right answer (key)!

Wrong answers only a little different from the correct answer can confuse even intelligent students.

  • 10. Offer an appropriate number of distracters!

More wrong answers means its harder to pick the right answer out randomly.


Due to large classrooms and limited numbers of teachers multiple choice questions are here to stay. Writing a question can require time and skills but there are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to writing questions. It is important to keep questions simple, grammatically correct and aimed at the learning targets.

42and the question is[edit]

1. Rules of writing a good answer includes all of the following except which answer?

  • a. Always make sure the right answer varies throughout tests.
  • b. Follow grammar rules for all answers when not testing grammar.
  • c. Gear all questions to the learning targets.
  • d. Use uniform construction to all answers.

2. Questions involving splitting material into parts require what kind of thought according to Bloom's Taxonomy?

  • a. About.
  • b. Analysis.
  • c. Knowledge
  • d. Understanding

3. The question in the box below contains what kind of question.

93. Elephants are to mice as jungle cats are to what?
  • a. Clowns.
  • b. Dart frogs.
  • c. Leaves.
  • d. Tigers.

  • a. Analogy.
  • b. Case study.
  • c. Consequence.
  • d. Problem evaluation.

4. Students are given an assignment to study biomes, and what kind of animals live in different biomes by reading an article, what would be an appropriate question to put on a quiz the next day related to the assignment?

  • a. How many kinds of plants are found in arid biomes?
  • b. What kinds of biomes have large cats living in them?
  • c. What causes biomes to form?
  • d. Where is the hottest biomes in the world?


  1. A
  2. B
  3. A
  4. B


Carneson, J., Delpierre, G., & Masters, K. (1996). Designing and managing multiple choice questions. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.

Cooper, G. (2000). Teaching effectiveness program. Retrieved March 21, 2009, from Techniques for Writing Multiple-Choice Items that Demand Critical Thinking Web site:

Holtzman, M. (2008).Demistyfing application multiple choice questions. College Teaching. 56, 114-120.

Self-assessment and summative assessment in e-education. Retrieved March 22, 2009, from Carnet Reference Center Web site: