10 Rules for Framing Effective Multiple Choice Questions

10 Rules for Framing Effective Multiple Choice Questions

Assessment is a vital component in any e-learning course or program that aims at continuous improvement. It enables employees to monitor their progress and assess themselves. Also, assessment provides feedback to employees as they take the course, and helps organizations evaluate learning outcomes.

A Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) is one of the most popular assessment methods that can be used for formative and summative assessments. Here, in response to a question, the learner is invited to select one correct option from a list of options. It is an effective and efficient way to assess learning outcomes. Multiple choice test items have several potential advantages: Versatility, Reliability, and Validity.

This blog will take you through the characteristics of an MCQ and the 10 rules to keep in mind while framing them.

Characteristics of MCQs

Multiple choice test items have several potential advantages:

Versatility: Multiple choice tests assess various levels of learning outcomes, from basic recall to application, analysis, and evaluation. Because learners are choosing from a set of potential answers, however, there are obvious limits on what can be tested. For example, they are not an effective way to test learners’ ability to organize thoughts or articulate explanations or creative ideas.

Reliability: Reliability is the degree to which a test consistently measures a learning outcome. Multiple choice questions provide less scope for guesswork than true/false questions do, making them a more reliable means of assessment. In fact, we can enhance the degree of reliability by increasing the number of items focused on a single learning objective.

Validity: Validity is the degree to which a test measures the learning outcomes it claims to offer. Since learners normally answer a multiple choice question more quickly than an essay question, tests based on multiple choice mostly focus on a broader representation of course material.

Anatomy of a Multiple Choice Question

A multiple choice item consists of a problem, known as the stem, and a list of suggested solutions, known as options or alternatives. The alternatives consist of one correct option, which is the answer, and incorrect or inferior alternatives, known as distractors.

10 Rules of Framing Effective MCQs

Rule 1: Avoid grammatical clues

Grammatical clues make the answer obvious to learners. We must ensure that the question stem is free from grammatical clues such as ‘a’ or ‘an’.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

A word that modifies an adjective is called an:

  1. Adverb
  2. Adjective
  3. Verb
  4. Conjunction

A word that modifies an adjective is called a/an:

  1. Adverb
  2. Adjective
  3. Verb
  4. Conjunction

Rule 2: Keep the alternatives homogeneous

Heterogeneous content provides clue to the learner on which answer is correct. Alternatives should be homogenous and shouldn’t provide a clue. Also, it is important to note that the alternatives have grammar consistent with the question stem, parallel in form, and similar in length and language.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

Ontario is famous for:

  1. Niagara Falls
  2. The state with a beaver on its flag
  3. The largest producer of Apples in Canada
  4. The location of the tallest mountain in Canada

 Ontario is famous for:

  1. Niagara Falls
  2. Victoria Falls
  3. Angel Falls
  4. Iguazu Falls

Rule 3: The stem should be in a question format, NOT incomplete statements

The stem should either be a question or a partial sentence. This allows the learner to focus on answering the question rather than holding the partial sentence in working memory and sequentially completing it with each option.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

The capital of Indonesia is:

  1. Jakarta
  2. Bandung
  3. Surabaya
  4. Medan

Which of the following is the capital of Indonesia?

  1. Jakarta
  2. Bandung
  3. Surabaya
  4. Medan

Rule 4: If using an incomplete statement, avoid beginning with blank space

The cognitive load on the learner is increased when the stem is constructed with an initial or blank in- between. So avoid such constructions.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

______________ is a synonym for courtesy.

  1. Bow
  2. Honesty
  3. Politeness
  4. Tribute

The synonym for courtesy is _____________.

  1. Bow
  2. Honesty
  3. Politeness
  4. Tribute

Rule 5: Alternatives should be mutually exclusive

Options that overlap confuse learners and can be easily identified as distractors. Also if the overlap includes the intended answer, then there will be more than one option that can be confused as the right answer.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

How long does an annual plant generally live?

  1. It dies after the first year
  2. It lives for many years
  3. It lives for more than one year
  4. It needs to be replaced each year

How long does an annual plant generally live?

  1. Only one year
  2. Only two years
  3. Only three years
  4. Several years

Rule 6: All alternatives should be plausible

The function of incorrect options is to serve as distractors. Options that are implausible don’t serve as distractors and hence, should not be used.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

Who among the following directed the film “Titanic”?

  1.  Vincent van Gosh
  2. Neil Gaiman
  3. James Cameron
  4. Steve Jobs

Who among the following directed the film “Titanic”?

  1. Steven Spielberg
  2. Christopher Nolan
  3. James Cameron
  4. Martin Scorsese

Rule 7: Alternatives should be presented in a logical order

Arranging alternatives logically in an alphabetical or numerical order will help you avoid cognitive overload and possible confusion.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

In which of these time periods was World War II fought?

  1. 1951-1955
  2. 1929-1934
  3. 1914-1917
  4. 1939-1955

In which of these time periods was World War II fought?

  1. 1914-1917
  2. 1929-1934
  3. 1939-1945
  4. 1951-1955

Rule 8: Balance the placement of the correct answer

If you have noticed, correct answers are usually at the second or third positions. Many instructors have a tendency to bury the answers in the middle, instead of placing them as the first or last option. This practice, however, is quite known to learners. The best method is to randomize the answers.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

Answer Key

1.a, 2.b, 3.c, 4.d, 5.a, 6.b, 7.c,
8.d, 9.a, 10.b

Answer Key

1.b, 2.d, 3.a, 4.c, 5.b, 6.d, 7.b,
8.b, 9.a, 10. c

Rule 9: Avoid the use of specific determiners

When words such as never, always, and only are included in the distractors to make them false, they serve as clues to alert learners. Instead, if necessary, you can include them in the beginning of your question stem rather than using them in the options.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

To avoid infection after receiving a puncture wound to the hand, you should:

  1. Always go to the immunization center to receive a tetanus shot
  2. Be treated with an antibiotic only if the wound is painful
  3. Ensure that no foreign object has been left in the wound
  4. Never wipe the wound with alcohol unless it is still bleeding

To avoid infection after receiving a puncture wound to the hand, you should always:

  1. Go to the immunization center to receive a tetanus shot
  2. Be treated with an antibiotic if the wound is painful
  3. Ensure that no foreign object has been left in the wound
  4. Wipe the wound with alcohol unless it is still bleeding

Rule 10: Keep the alternatives similar in length

An option in a multiple choice question that is noticeably longer or shorter than the others has a greater chance of being assumed to be the correct answer. Hence, to avoid such choices without good reason, always keep your options similar in length.

Incorrect QuestionCorrect Question

Which of the following is the best indication of high morale in a supervisor unit?

  1. Employees are rarely required to work overtime
  2. Employees are willing to give first priority to group objectives, subordinating any personal desires they may have
  3. The supervisor enjoys staying late to plan for the next day
  4. The unit members give expensive birthday presents to each other

Which of the following is the best indication of high morale in a supervisor unit?

  1. Employees are rarely required to work overtime
  2. Employees willingly give first priority to group objectives
  3. The supervisor enjoys staying late to plan for the next day
  4. Unit members give expensive birthday

Learners prefer multiple choice questions over other assessment methods because it is simple and easy to score. By following the above mentioned rules, you can design objective and reliable multiple choice questions to evaluate learning.

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