Multiple choice questions (MCQ)
What is it?
A multiple choice question, also referred to as an item, consists of two parts. These include the problem statement (referred to as the stem); and several response options (referred to as alternatives). The alternatives usually contain one correct or best answer (referred to as the keyed response), with the rest being incorrect answers (referred to as distractors).
What are the affordances?
Some of the most compelling reasons for using MCQs include their perceived objectivity (removing assessor bias, making them more reliable), reduced marking time, the fact that they can scope large portions of work and can offer immediate feedback. This also makes them ideal for online formative assessment, where students can take the test in their own time. Most online platforms (including SUNLearn) has built-in statistical analysis tools that offer useful information for improving the questions and controlling the standard of the test.
Contrary to what is often assumed, MCQs can assess at multiple levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. However, designing good MCQs that accurately assess higher order thinking skills, are time-consuming as they require skills and expertise to design well. It has also been argued that MCQs might:
- encourage students to adopt superficial approaches to learning
- be answered correctly by guesswork,
- disadvantage students with lesser reading skills, regardless of how well they understand the content that is assessed.
The use of MCQs should be aligned with the outcomes it is meant to assess. There might be cases where MCQs might not be able to accurately assess the outcomes, e.g. if the outcomes center around writing skills.
General guidelines for writing MCQs
Each question should focus on an important concept or testing point.
What do you want the test-taker to know or demonstrate?
Each question should assess application of knowledge, not recall of an isolated fact.
The number of response options can vary among questions. There is little difference in difficulty, discrimination, and test score reliability among questions containing two, three, and four distractors.
Always review questions to identify and remove technical flaws that add irrelevant difficulty or benefit savvy test-takers.
As you review it, ask yourself the following questions.
- If the response options were removed, could a knowledgeable test-taker still answer the question correctly?
- Is there anything in the phrasing or text that could confuse the knowledgeable test-taker?
- Are there any clues that could help a test-wise student to guess the correct response option?
Finally, you should ask a colleague to review the question you have written, in particular for content, clarity, and appropriateness for your particular test-taker population.
Follow this link to a self-paced tutorial on how to design MCQ’s (45minutes): www.nbme.org/IWTutorial
Brame, C., (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Retrieved September 2018 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides- sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/.