Guidelines to Develop Effective Multiple Choice Questions

Guidelines to Develop Effective Multiple Choice Questions

Guidelines to Develop Effective MCQs

A common method to reinforce and check learning in classroom-based, or web-based training, is to include questions.

There are many types of objective questions such as true or false, multiple choice questions, match the following, drag and drop etc.

Learning occurs at many levels, from simple recall to problem solving. One of the best type of questions that can be used to check the learning is multiple choice questions (MCQs). MCQs are used for measuring three levels of Blooms Taxonomy – knowledge, comprehension, and application outcomes of various types of content, such as terminology, facts, principles, methods and procedures. MCQs are easy to grade and the learners are less likely to guess the correct answer, when compared to true or false.

MCQs include question stem, options and feedback.

  • Question stem: The stem is the first part of the question that presents a problem to be solved.
  • Options: The options include the correct answer and distracters. The incorrect answers are called distracters.
  • Feedback: Feedback is the information you provide to the learners after they have selected the option. Providing feedback reinforces learning.

Multiple Choice Questions in Elearning

Let’s look at some of the guidelines to develop effective multiple choice questions in custom eLearning courses.

Question stem

  • Test questions must directly correlate to the course learning objectives, to ensure validity and alignment.
  • Keep the question stem and options as short as possible.

World war II was (less effective)

  • The result of the failure of the League of Nations
  • Horrible
  • Fought in Europe, Asia, and Africa
  • Fought during the period 1939-1945

In which of these time period was World War II fought? (more effective)

  • 1914-1917
  • 1929-1934
  • 1939-1945
  • 1951-1955

Ref:Instructional Assessment Resources (IAR)

  • Avoid using negatives in the stem. If necessary, highlight by either capitalizing or bold facing them.
Which one of the following factors is NOT associated with Type 2 diabetes?

  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • IGT and IFG
  • Viral infections – constructing MCQs

  • Use a question format instead of incomplete statements.
  • When using incomplete statements avoid beginning with a blank space.

__________ is a synonym for courtesy. (less effective)

  • bow (bend forward from the waist)
  • honesty
  • politeness
  • tribute

The synonym for courtesy is __________. (more effective)

  • bow (bend forward from the waist)
  • honesty
  • politeness
  • tribute

Ref: Multiple Choice Alabama


  • Options should be approximately the same length, because the longest ones is usually considered the correct answer
  • Don’t use opposites as one of the distracters, because it often narrows the answer down to one of those answers
  • Avoid “All of the above” option, because learners merely need to recognize two correct options to get the answer correct
  • Avoid “None of the above” option, because you will never know if learners know the correct answer
  • Avoid repeating words from the question stem in the alternatives, because it becomes a give way
  • Have four options including one correct answer


  • Feedback should be given so that learners learn from it
  • State why the answer is correct or incorrect
  • Just saying ‘you are correct’ or ‘sorry, you are wrong’ with no explanantion does not serve the purpose
  • Feedback reinforces learning and instills confidence in the learner

Though many of them think it’s easy to frame MCQs, they actually do not know the psychological reason behind developing the MCQs. Lot of work has been done by E. L. Thorndike and Frederick J. Kelly, and I would strongly recommend you to read their books.

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