Tuesday, February 14, 2017



How to Write Effective Multiple Choice Test Questions

Contributed by: Michelle Rossi

This week we welcomed Barbara Mills from the Center for Education Effectiveness. She facilitated a workshop on “How to Write Effective Multiple Choice Test Questions.” The initial implication is that questions CAN be poorly written. With question validity in mind, there are some common things to consider when crafting effective questions – those questions that truly measure what they are intended to measure.

Test questions (and other assessments more broadly) should be linked to instruction and learning objectives. An ideal blueprint for test design will include questions that test understanding of learning objectives at multiple levels of thinking (i.e., Bloom’s Taxonomy). Attention should be given to both the “stem” of the question AND the “alternatives/distractors/responses.” Tips for designing question stems include removing barriers (i.e., idioms, grammatical errors, excessive reading), removing clues, and highlighting critical words (in caps, italics, or bold).

Barbara also suggests that alternatives be limited to three or four per question stem. When designing alternatives, consideration should be given so responses have similar lengths, parallel language, and are mutually exclusive.

Once tests are created, a critical step often missed is editing and piloting the test.

Finally, asking a colleague to look over the exam can assist with detecting any errors and with considering how much time will be required from students. Eliminating potential problems prior to administration helps to ensure that exams are useful and valid instruments for measuring student learning.

More information can be found through the Center for Educational Effectiveness and Barbara can be contacted at:

Barbara Mills
Testing Specialist
Phone: (530) 752-7995
Email: bjmills@ucdavis.edu

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