Teaching and Learning Resources

Multiple Choice Assessment

Multiple choice testing is an efficient and effective way to assess a wide range of knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities. Multiple‐choice questions are widely used in higher education and have some important advantages over short and long answer test questions. Many instructors underestimate the value of multiple‐choice questions, believing them to be useful only for assessing how well students can memorize information, but not for assessing higher‐order cognitive skills.

Multiple choice items consist of a stem and a set of options. The stem is the beginning part of the item that presents the item as a problem to be solved, a question to be answered, or an incomplete statement to be completed. The options are the possible answers that the examiner can choose from, with the correct answer called the key and the incorrect answers called distractors.

To test advanced, higher levelthinking, such as applied knowledge, (see Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives) the stem may consist of multiple parts including extended or ancillary material such as a case study, a graph, a table, or a detailed description which has multiple elements to it.

Multiple choice tests provide a fast and easy way to not only measure student learning, but to identify challenges as well. To evaluate the strength of the test itself, after the test is graded review the results and take out any questions that 50 percent or more of your students got wrong. Likely there was an issue with the way the question was written or it may reflect how the concept was taught. The following list outlines the basic guidelines for constructing high quality questions. 


10 Tips for Creating Good Multiple Choice Questions
               1. Don’t make vocabulary unnecessarily difficult
               2. Make sure the “stem” (question) asks a complete question.
               3. Don’t ask questions about trivia.
               4. Avoid negative items.
               5. Avoid grammatical clues to the right answer.
               6. Avoid “none of the above” and “all of the above.”
               7. Make all options roughly the same length.
                8. Use common misconceptions or stereotypes as incorrect options.
                9. Repeat keywords between the stem and the incorrect options.
              10. Use interpretative exercises to get away from rote learning.
By: Linda Suskie, vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education


Related Resources

Making the most of multiple choice questions: Getting beyond Remembering by David DiBattista (2008)
presents several strategies for generating multiple‐choice questions that can effectively assess students’ ability to understand, apply, analyze, and evaluate information.

Multiple‐Choice Construction Checklist. A multi‐part guide to constructing multiple‐choice tests, written by Dr. Robert Runte at the University of Lethbridge.

How to Prepare Better Multiple-Choice Test Items is an extensive booklet that includes a discussion of the pros and cons of multiple choice assessment; how to write MC questions to measure higher‐level objectives; and how to improve poorly‐written MC items.

Also see Assessment