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How Not to Write Effective Assessment Questions: 8 Pitfalls

Ask any instructional designer about writing assessment questions and you will see a grimace for sure. Why do IDs find it difficult to frame “good” questions? In self-paced eLearning, we usually use MCQs that are single select in the final quiz or summative assessment. This question type responses are easier to track with the LMS. Coming back to the difficulty – it is two-fold. It is tough to write a question stem (the main piece of the MCQ, other than the answer choices given below it) and it is tougher to come up with the options, especially the distractors (the wrong options). Most IDs are also not sure how many options should a question have – 3, 4 or more?

When I was writing assessment questions many years ago (now, my able IDs go it with a panache!), I came across an intriguingly funny yet highly educative PowerPoint deck about the dos and don’ts of writing MCQs. It is still up on the Internet and apparently first created by Nora Mogey, Phil Race and Roger Lewis in the 1980’s.  The presentation shows how easy it is to falter in framing MCQs and how much easier it is for the learners to “guess” the correct answer.

Have a stab at the test in verbatim, and then we will come back for some more tips.

1: The usual function of grunge prowkers is to remove

  1. grunges.
  2. snarts.
  3. trigs.
  4. grods.

Answer is A!

Don’t include a word from the stem in one of the options, or it will make people think it is the correct option.

2: Antigrottification occurs

  1. on spring mornings.
  2. on summer evenings provided there is no rain before dusk.
  3. on autumn afternoons.
  4. on winter nights.

Answer is B!

This option looks more probable, because it is longer, and because it is the only one which is qualified.

3: Lurkies suffer from trangitis because

  1. their prads are always underdeveloped.
  2. all their brizes are horizontal.
  3. their curnpieces are usually imperfect
  4. none of their dringoes can ever adapt.

Answer is C!

Don’t mix indefinites with definites – indefinites are more likely to be correct. (Indefinites: usually, sometimes, often, seldom…Definites: all, never, none, and so on)

4: Non-responsive frattling is usually found in an

  1. gringle.
  2. janket.
  3. kloppie.
  4. Uckerpod.

Answer is D!

Don’t allow the indefinite article (‘an’) to give away the right answer.

5: Which are exceptions to the law of lompicality?

  1. The miltrip and the nattercup.
  2. The bifid pantrip.
  3. The common queeter.
  4. The flanged ozzer.

Answer is A!

Don’t ask for something plural, then make just one option plural.

6: Which must be present for parbling to take place?

  1. Phlot and runge.
  2. Runge.
  3. Stuke and runge.
  4. Runge and trake.

Answer is B!

If it’s not this option, it can’t be any of them (one way of thinking about it!!)

7: One common disorder of an overspragged uckerpod is

  1. copious vezzling.
  2. intermittent weggerment.
  3. non-responsive frattling.
  4. uneven yerkation.

Answer is C!

Be careful about overlapping questions! Candidates should look at both questions and get maximum thinking.

8: Which of these is the correct answer?

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Answer is D!

There was a pattern. ‘D’ is due to come up again.

See, it is so easy to make a mess of MCQs. Even without understanding the question or the options, a street-smart learner can guess the correct answer. The other dead giveaways are having “All the above” and, “None of the above” as one of the options and make them correct ones.

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