10 Rules for Writing Multiple Choice Questions


These rules will help you in constructing your test questions. Remember, the purpose of the quiz is for the learner to test themselves for knowledge they have just learnt.


The Rules (according to Connie Malamed)


 1.  Test comprehension and critical thinking, not just recall.

Multiple choice questions are criticised for testing the superficial recall of knowledge.  You can go beyond this by asking learners to interpret facts, evaluate situations, explain cause and effect, make inferences, and predict results.


2.  Use simple sentence structure and precise wording.

Write test questions in simple structure that is easy to understand.  Try to be as accurate as possible in your word choices.  Words can have many meanings depending on colloquial usage and context.


3.  Place most of the words in the question stem.

If you’re using a question stem, rather than an entire question, ensure that most of the words are in the steam.  This way, the answer options can be short, making them less confusing and more legible.


4.  Make all distracters plausible.

All of the wrong answer choices should be completely reasonable.  This can be very hard to accomplish, but avoid throwing in those give-away distractors as it detracts from the test’s validity.


5.  Keep app your answer choices the same length.

This can be difficult to achieve, but expert test takers can answer length as a hint to the correct answer.  Often the longest answer is the correct one.  If you can’t get all four answers to the same length, use two short and two long.


6.  Avoid double negatives

Don’t’ use combinations of these words in the same question: not, no, nor, the –un prefix, etc.  For example, this type of question could confuse test-takers: ‘Which of the following comments would NOT be unwelcome in a work situation.”’  Flip it around and write it in the positive form: ‘Which of the following comments are acceptable in a work situation?’


7.  Mix up the order of the correct questions.

Make sure that most of your correct answers aren’t in the “b” and “c” positions, which can often happen.  Keep correct answers in random positions and don’t let them fall into a pattern that can be detected.  When your test is written, go through and reorder where the correct answers are placed, if necessary.


8.  Keep the number of options consistent.

It’s something of a user interface issue.  Making the number of options consistent from question to question helps learners know what to expect.  Research doesn’t seem to agree on whether 3 or 4 or 5 options are best.  4 options always seems to be fair.


9.  Avoid tricking test-takers.

As faulty as they are, tests exist to measure knowledge.  Never use questions or answer options that could trick a learner.  If a question or its options can be interpreted in two ways or if the difference between options is too close, then find a way to re-write it.


10.  Use “All of the Above” and “None of the Above” with caution.

All of the Above’ can be an obvious give-away answer when it’s not used consistently.  Also ‘All of the above’ option can encourage guessing if the learner thinks one or two answers are correct.  In addition, the downside of ‘None of the Above’ is that you can’t tell if the learner really knew the correct answer.

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