Multiple choice questions
questions provide a number of options from which students
select the best answer. The format of a multiple-choice
question consists of two parts:
The stem, which is the introductory question, or an
The options, consisting of the correct answer, and
the incorrect answers (distractors).
a number of multiple-choice questions are grouped together
to form a test.
can be used to assess students' ability to:
interpret graphs and diagrams;
discriminate between fact and opinion;
inferences from data; and
assess students' ability to recognise a correct answer,
rather than to construct an answer.
options should provide plausible alternatives to the
correct answer. Research into students' commonly held
alternative understandings or responses provides a starting
point for designing relevant distractors.
the strategy works
distractors provide alternatives that identify particular
misconceptions. Providing a number of alternatives may
scaffold the students' thinking.
of this strategy are:
is not a barrier;
It is quick and easy to administer and mark;
Marking is objective;
Inter-marker reliability is maximised;
It allows assessment to cover a broad range of concepts;
Well-constructed items can be used for determining
Identify the objective of the assessment. If the response
is better measured by the student doing something,
choose a different assessment strategy.
Write the stem, either as a question or an incomplete
statement. It should be written clearly and concisely,
and contain as much of the relevant information as
Include any language in the stem that you would have
to repeat in each answer option.
Write distractors that are credible. It is better
to provide less options than have obviously wrong
alternatives. Providing they are credible, the more
distractors, the less likely students can guess the
Make sure that the options are grammatically consistent
with the stem.
Check that there are no clues to the right answer.
Avoid using keywords in the options.
Avoid the use of words such as never, always, all,
Check only one correct answer is provided.
Set out neatly. Put each option on a separate line.
Make sure the correct answer is randomly placed. Some
people tend to place the correct answer in the middle.
Keep vocabulary and sentence construction as simple
Avoid double negatives.
Writing effective multiple-choice questions is difficult
The amount of reading required may be a barrier for
Vocabulary and sentence structure can be a barrier,
particularly to ESOL students.
Multiple-choice questions do not give information
about why a particular response has
Multiple-choice questions do not evaluate performance.
you want to find out more about what students are thinking:
students to tell you why they chose that answer;
Have students work in small groups to decide on the
best answer, and justify their decision;
Adapt a traditional multiple-choice question to a
POE or Concept
Cartoon or a group discussion.
of multiple-choice ARB resources
are many multiple-choice questions available. On the
classification search pages in each bank:
on the drop down menu, "Resource type";
Select "Selected response".
on the link to the Science search page
on the link to the Maths search page
on the link to the English search page
S., Sudweeks, R., Merrill, P., and Wood, B. (1991).
to prepare better multiple-choice test items: Guidelines
for university faculty. Brigham Young University
Testing Services and the Department of Instructional
strategies | ARB