3 Ways To Make Your Multiple-Choice Questions More Effective


In the last post, we looked at some ways to make your multiple-choice questions effective. In this post, I will suggest some other ways to make your multiple-choice items more reliable.

Avoid negatives. Oftentimes, learners overlook the word not and, as a result, choose an incorrect response. It is a good practice to record your stems whenever possible. If the stem cannot be reworded, bolding, underlining, or capitalizing the negatives will draw the learners’ attention to these negatives and help them concentrate on the actual question. Also, if instructional designers absolutely have or want to include negatives in their questions, it is suggested to add them at the end of the question stem and use capital letters to bring attention to them. For example: All of the following are ways to make your assessment items reliable  EXCEPT:

Avoid revelation of correct response. The stems should be written in a way that does not automatically reveal the correct response to any of the questions on the assessment. This can be accomplished by including only the information needed to answer each specific question and avoiding information that can be used to answer another question on the test. Using the same word in both the stem and the option can easily reveal the correct response. Another way to avoid the unintentional revelation of correct responses is to eliminate such grammatical cues as a/an. This can be done by including both options in the stem. Here is an example:

A/An________ about instructional design is now available on the Amazon Kindle.

           a. eBook

           b.  Report

If, on the other hand, the stem had included only “an” instead of “a/an,” the learner would be able to easily guess the correct response.

Select appropriate distractors for each assessment item. Consider including no more than five answer choices in each question that is one correct answer and three or four distractors. Unless it is a multiple-answer question, there should only be one correct response. While all other options are distractors, they should still be plausible, meaning that they should make perfect sense in the context of the question. The best way to come up with distractors for assessment questions is to think of common errors that learners make and turn these errors into distractors. Here is an example:

According to Robert Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, the first step in creating an effective lesson is:

    a.   Gaining learners’ attention

    b.   Analyzing learners’ current performance

    c.   Stimulating recall of prior knowledge

    d.   Eliciting performance

While this question makes perfect sense and the correct answer choice is clearly A, the first distractor is not plausible because analyzing learners’ performance is not part of Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction.

My book Instructional design for eLearning provides more ways to design effective test items for your eLearning materials. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the book covers true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching and free response items.







  • Jan Gleiter

    Another very important element is making sure that items are truly discrete. That is, the examinee should always be able to get one item wrong without getting another item wrong. Also, the stem for one item should never clue the student in to the correct response to another item.

    November 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm

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