5 Tips to Craft Good Multiple-Choice Questions

  • Posted on February 26, 2015   Shazia Wajid

    Assessments are an essential part of instruction. They are used by the instructor to test student’s understanding of the subject matter, to prompt learners to think more about course content before moving forward, and to identify the learning curve of the students in order to direct them towards remedial information (if required), in an online training.

    When it comes to designing assessments for online courses, multiple-choice questions are widely used because of their efficiency and rapidness. A trainer can easily test different stages of learning outcomes (recall, comprehension, application, analysis and synthesis) with the help of well-crafted MCQ’s.

    The following five tips may be helpful as a guideline for writing better MCQ’s for your elearning courses:

    Write short and clear stem

    A multiple choice question consists of a stem and set of options. The stem may be written in a form of a question, a scenario or an incomplete statement. Ideally, the stem of MCQ’s should be crisp and clear and not more than a line or two. Long and unclear stems are nothing but a waste of time. Academic experts recommend writing stems in question format.

    Your questions should support the learning objectives of your course

    Ensure to align your MCQ’s with the learning objectives of your online course and avoid “gotchas” approach by avoiding things that were not included in your course.

    Keep answer choices reasonable and short

    Usually, the longest answer choice is often perceived as correct by the students. Debunk this myth, and try writing reasonable answer choices of similar length. Ideally, all of your distractors should represent a common mistake for which you then provide feedback to get students back on the right track. Also, while crafting answer choices, avoid confusing terms such as “none of the above” and “all of the above”. Focus on keeping the language consistent throughout the answer options.

    It doesn’t always have to be 4 answer choices in MCQ’s

    Generally, people expect MCQ’s to consist of 4 answer options, but this might not be the case in every question that you write. Don’t get worried about the number of answer options (there may be as low as 2). Focus framing answer options that reinforce critical thinking among learners.

    Feedback is important

    Feedback is a great way to provide constructive improvement to the learners. Provide proper feedback to the learners rather than restating the question. Incorporate motivating punch lines in correct answer feedback such as “Good job!”, “bravo”, “Good going!” etc. and avoid criticizing tone such as “No”, “You are wrong”, “That’s incorrect”, for incorrect attempts. Try using neutral phrases for incorrect answer feedback such as “Try again”, “Not quite right”, and so forth.

    A well-written assessment is an ideal tool for an instructor to assess learner’s knowledge and understanding of the course content. Frame it carefully to gauge the learning outcomes of your online course.

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    1. Ger Tielemans says:

      ..do not forget to give the persons with the correct answers ALSO good feedback, for example:
      “Your answer is correct, other people choose the wrong answer X for this and this reason. Click on THIS LINK to learn more about that common mistake.”

      September 23, 2015 at 11:13 am - Reply
      • Shazia Wajid
        Shazia Wajid says:

        Nice point Ger. Thank you!

        October 21, 2015 at 8:45 am - Reply
      • Pamela Smith says:

        Excellent point! Sometimes I think we forget just how important the feedback can be. It also provides an excellent learning opportunity for the participant.

        August 5, 2016 at 2:45 pm - Reply
        • Shazia Wajid
          Shazia Wajid says:


          August 16, 2016 at 10:50 am - Reply
    2. Seth Bleecker says:

      Another thing I try to keep in mind when writing feedback is that many times, you are trying to get the learner to change their behavior in some way. As such, you should always give them the benefit of the doubt and the tone of your feedback should be empathetic and motivational. You can’t force a person to change, and taking a stern tone often inspires defensiveness or resentment rather than compliance.

      You could acknowledge the reasoning that may have led them to an incorrect answer; or normalize their answer by sharing that many people would say the same thing; or acknowledge that people may hold different opinions. Then point out how best practice might get better results, possibly mentioning supporting research. Encourage them to think about how they might feel in the situation in question and how best practice could improve that situation.

      In general, I have found the principles of Motivational Interviewing very helpful in changing learners’ behaviors.

      August 10, 2016 at 8:52 pm - Reply
      • Shazia Wajid
        Shazia Wajid says:

        Great point Seth! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

        August 16, 2016 at 10:48 am - Reply
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