Creating multiple choice questions for exams or quizzes takes a bit of practice. There is more to it than just listing 5 items to pick from to answer the question.
Multiple choice questions consist of three parts:
- The stem: is the problem. It can be stated as a question, or it can be sentence. It needs to be clearly written and contain only the information needed.
- Distractors: are the wrong options. These should be meaningful and relate in some way to the question being posed.
- The Answer: there should be only one correct answer to the question
In writing the question, it should be meaningful and relate to the course materials and learning outcomes. There should be a valid reason for asking the question. Write the stem as a ‘negative’ only when you really have to, don’t do it just because and it’s a good idea to emphasize it: Which of the following is NOT a primary colour? Try to write the stem so that there is no clue as to what the answer is, such as through the use of ‘a’ or ‘an’ in the stem.
The distractors and the answer have some common points to keep in mind. They should be about the same length, they should all relate to the question itself. Distractors should be listed because they are common misconceptions of the right answer. In selecting these items, there should be a valid reason they appear on the list of choices. For example, “From the following list, select Canada’s current Prime Minister:
A) Justin Trudeau
B) Stephen Harper
Option D has no value to the question. Option A is, of course, correct, option B represents the previous Prime Minister and can be linked to knowing who is the current office holder, while Option C can be considered a distractor because he was the Prime Minister and has the same last name as the current holder. Option D is allowing students a ‘gimmee’ and letting them have a 33 1/3% chance of guessing the right answer.
Using answers like “All of the above” or “none of the above” should be avoided. They give an advantage to students who merely need to know 2 of the concepts listed in order to be able to determine that ‘all of the above’ is the correct response.
All exams at PACE use a strict exam protocol for delivery. Instructors should adopt this for quizzes as well: clear desk tops, phones away, no late entries, etc.. Even during reviews, don’t let students have phones out. These steps help reduce academic misconduct.
In a similar fashion, having multiple versions of quizzes in use in a classroom helps reduce cheating. Moe the order of the questions, change the order of responses to produce a Version A, Version B, and even a Version C. Hand them out so that no two versions are sitting beside each other.
If you want to know more about writing multiple choice questions, and excellent online resource is from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching: