15 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Multiple-Choice Questions

Multiple choice test quiz
Multiple-choice quizzes are a great way to test for student understanding. They’re easy to write and easy to grade.

That said, multiple-choice questions can sometimes be confusing and leave students scratching their heads, wondering what their professor intended to ask. In online courses, misleading or ambiguous questions can be particularly frustrating, since professors are not standing by to answer questions while students take the test.

How can professors write multiple-choice questions that will be easy for students to understand?

Follow these 15 Do’s and Don’ts while writing your multiple-choice quizzes to ensure that your tests are effective, straightforward, and leave no room for confusion.

DON’T:

  1. Use double negatives, such as “Which of the following is least unlikely to be a speculative purchase?” Double negatives can be very confusing to read.
  2. Use vague terms such as “often” “frequently” “rarely” “sometimes” or “might.”
  3. Write questions saying, “Which of the following is NOT…” or “All of the following are true, EXCEPT….” because students often misread those type of questions.
  4. Offer answer choices like “(a) and (b) are both correct” or “(b) and (c) are both correct.” This type of question can be very confusing to students whose brains are already overloaded with trying to remember a lot of material during the test.
  5. Use abbreviations unless you are certain that the entire class will know what they stand for.
  6. Write absolutes like “always” “never” “all” or “none,” unless you are absolutely sure that statement is true. If a student thinks of a possibility that violates the statement – no matter how far-fetched – they will think that the answer option is incorrect.

DO:

  1. Think about what learning objective you hope to achieve with each question.
  2. Group all questions on the same topic together.
  3. Group all questions with the same directions together – i.e. “True or False” or “Which of the following is true?”
  4. Make sure there is only 1 correct answer and all other answers are clearly incorrect. Students may be confused when they are instructed to choose the “best” answer.
  5. Make sure that your incorrect answer options are plausible.
  6. Write out questions in full sentences, rather than incomplete statement. For example, write “What are prokaryotic cells?” rather than “Prokaryotic cells are ______” Full sentence questions are easier to understand because the student knows what to expect before they look at the answer options.
  7. Present answer choices in numerical, alphabetical, or sequential order.
  8. Add bold, italics, underline, or capital letters to stress words that students might miss.
  9. Make sure that all answer choices are all grammatically consistent with the phrasing of the question and with each other. If an answer choice is not grammatically consistent, students might (correctly or incorrectly) assume that it cannot be the correct answer option.

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