How to Write a Multiple Choice Test: Dos and Don’ts

by Holly Cowart
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

The advantages of multiple choice testing include ease of grading and student familiarity with the format. The disadvantages include the fact that students can guess the correct answers and often aren’t tested on higher-order thinking. The time required to develop a good multiple choice test may not be justified in a small course.

DO’s for creating multiple choice exams

  • Randomize correct answers
  • Use parallel construction (in stem and choices)
  • Adapt, not adopt questions
  • Use application
  • Put most of the words in the stem, not the answer
  • Make the stem clear
  • Provide plausible answer choices
  • Write concise answer options (or at least similar in length)
  • Put your answers in logical order
  • Pretest your questions – Wilbert McKeachie recommends having a skilled test-taker who doesn’t know the material take your test

Don’ts for creating multiple choice exams

  • Make the correct choice obvious by making it:
    – the longest
    – the one with extra qualifiers
    – the only one that matches the construction of the stem
  • State question as negatives (when necessary, make negatives STAND OUT)
  • Try to trick students
  • Write fill in the blanks – the stem should be a question or short statement
  • Use “none of the above” or “all of the above”
  • Be wordy
  • Use opposite answer pairs unless more than one pair is presented

Adapted from UF Handbook for teaching assistants; Vanderbilt University Center Teaching Guide; University of Florida Teaching Assistant Handbook; McKeachie’s Teaching Tips

Holly Cowart is a doctoral student at the University of Florida and a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930) during Fall Semester 2013.

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