Multiple choice is a staple of learning products in the corporate digital learning space. Many web-based trainings feature multiple choice as the only type of activity for students to perform, besides clicking “next” in order to jump from slide to slide. We see multiple choice questions not so much as an assessment of learning (summative assessment), but as an assessment for learning (formative assessment). Quiz questions provide instant feedback on knowledge and understanding. At the moment, iversity offers three basic question types: single choice, multiple choice and free-text entries.
In order to ensure that questions are not just a random logic exercise, it is important to first establish clear learning objectives for a given chapter or unit. The multiple choice questions should then be formulated with regard to these learning objectives. That way you only test what actually matters.
Good Multiple Choice Questions Have Three Components
There are three components to pay attention to:
The introduction and the questions
- Provide all necessary context and give explanations before posing the question
- Provide the correct answer and 2-4 incorrect answers (distractors) to choose from
- Provide detailed feedback related to each of the answer options provided
Introduction and Questions
Ensure that you have formulated clear and concise learning objectives in the language that is also being used in the course material. At the same time, questions shouldn’t be phrased in a way that reveals the correct answer. The introduction should provide helpful context, but should not provide cues that help learners answer this or any of the other quiz questions.
The multiple-choice questions themselves should satisfy the following criteria:
- They should be phrased positively to avoid making the question difficult to answer correctly due to grammatical complexity.
- They should not be a composite of two questions, making it unclear which one is to be answered.
- They should not ask for trivial facts. Remember, questions should reflect learning objectives. Regurgitating facts, particularly if the questions are very easy, is not just useless, but frustrating and demotivating.
Once the question has been correctly formulated, we first need the correct answer. With the correct answer in mind, it’s a lot easier to formulate distractors. We recommend two to four distractors. The quality and effectiveness of your multiple choice test ultimately depends on the quality of your answer options! You can have great questions, but if the correct answer is obvious, you will not challenge learners to gain the kind of deep understanding required to answer hard questions.
Answer checklist – All of the answer options you provide should:
- Be similarly long and similarly structured grammatically. If the correct answer is very long and all the others are very short, that kind of gives it away,
- Be concise and phrased in plain and simple English without unnecessary jargon. Avoid double negation. This is not a language or logic test! (Unless, of course, that’s what it is).
- Avoid answer options like “all of the above” or “none of the above”. These are usually simple distractors. If you use them, make sure that they are correct every once in a while.
- Not include words such as “always” or “never”, because from a probability perspective they necessarily have a lower probability of being correct (which makes guessing easier).
- Avoid technical terms and jargon, or if you do use them, use them in all answer options so as to not give away the correct answer.
- Not repeat the same sentence with only one word different. It’s better to insert “…” somewhere in the sentence and make the words that are different the answer options.
- The correct answers should be equally distributed. Ideally, randomise the order in which they are displayed.
Distractors should be:
- Plausible. Put yourself in the learners’ shoes! What are plausible misconceptions? What sounds right, but is wrong? Remember: What’s heavier: a ton of steel or a ton of feathers? That kind of thing.
- Sufficiently different from the correct answer as to be distinguishable and mutually exclusive.
Automatic Instant Feedback
After answering a question, the student should receive immediate feedback. A simple yes / no response does little to help students grasp the concept at hand. Learners quickly begin to play a guessing game and will not get any closer to the desired learning outcome. Helpful feedback explains in detail why a given answer is incorrect without giving away the correct answer. At most, it should give a hint as to the correct answer. Coming up with these responses takes time, but it helps learners reflect on the answer they chose as well as the alternatives.
It is also important to explain why an answer is correct, in order to ensure that learners do not chose the right answer for the wrong reasons.