Questions à choix multiples – Principes généraux
1. Do not write the test in one day. Spread the work out over time. Questions demanding
high-level thinking take longer to craft-professional item writers often write only 3 or 4
per day. Write one or two questions after each class, so it becomes a simple matter of
assembling them into an exam. Some teachers keep a rubber-banded stack of note cards
in their desk for this purpose.
2. If students are to hand-write the letters of their chosen answers, ask them to use
CAPITAL LETTERS. The handwritten, lower-case letters "a" and "d" and "c" and "e"
can be difficult to distinguish when scoring.
Writing the Stem
1. Phrase stems as clearly as possible-confusing questions can generate wrong answers from
students who do understand the material.
For example, a "According to Tuckman's model, groups develop through several stages over
confusing stem time. Furthermore, it contradicts Poole's activity-track model which has groups
like: switching among several different linear sequences. Which of the following is
not one of the stages identified in Tuckman's model?"
could be "Tuckman's model of group development includes: [Select all that apply]
cleaned up to
2. Avoid extra language in the stem. Some think extraneous details make a question more
complex. However, they most often just add to the students' reading time. This reduces
the number of questions you can put on a test, therefore reducing the reliability of the
test. For example, in the Tuckman question above, the information on Poole's model had
nothing to do with the information sought by the question.
3. Include any language in the stem that you would have to repeat in each answer option.
For example, a stem such as "Biology is defined as the scientific study of:" keeps you
from having to repeat "is the scientific study of" at the beginning of each option.
1. Avoid lifting phrases directly from text or lecture. This becomes a simple recall activity
for the student. Use new language as frequently as possible.
2. Most literature recommends writing the correct answer before writing the distracters.
This makes sure you pay enough attention to formulating the one clearly correct answer.
3. Answer options should be about the same length and parallel in grammatical structure.
Too much detail or different grammatical structure can give the answer away.
For example, the specificity and grammatical structure of the first option here are dead
The term "side effect" of a drug:
a) refers to any action of a drug in the body other than the one the doctor wanted
to drug to have.
b) is the chain effect of a drug.
c) additionally benefits the drug.
4. Limit the number of answer options. Research shows that three-choice items are about as
effective as four-choice items. Four choice items are the most popular, and never give
more than five alternatives.
5. Distracters must be incorrect, but plausible. If you can, include among the distracters
options that contain common errors. Students will then be motivated to listen to your
explanations of why those options are incorrect.
6. To make distracters more plausible, use words that should be familiar to students.
7. If a recognizable key word appears in the correct answer, it should appear in some or all
of the distracters as well. Don't let a verbal clue decrease the accuracy of your exam.
For example, someone with no biology background would not have to think very hard to
make a correct guess on this question:
Every organism is made of cells and every cell comes from another cell. This is
a) Relativity Theory
b) Evolution Theory
c) Heat Theory
d) Cell Theory
8. Help students see crucial words in the question. For example: "Which of the following is
NOT an explicit norm?" Likewise, when you ask a similarly-worded question about two
different things, always highlight the difference between the questions.
9. It is often difficult to come up with 3 or 4 plausible distracters, and teachers will
sometimes add some that are not plausible, or even humorous. Be careful. If it is too easy
to eliminate one or two options, then the question loses much of its measurement value. If
energy or time is limited and you must come up with one more distracter, consider either
offering a true statement that does not answer the question and/or a jargon-ridden option
that is meaningless to someone who understands the concept.
10. Use Rarely:
o Extreme words like "all," "always" and "never" (generally a wrong answer).
o Vague words or phrases like "usually," "typically" and "may be" (generally a
o "All of the above" - eliminating one distracter immediately eliminates this, too.
o "None of the above" - use only when the correct answer can be absolutely correct,
such as in math, grammar, historical dates, geography, etc.. Do not use with
negatively-stated stems, as the resulting double-negative is confusing. Studies do
show that using "None of the above" does make a question more difficult, and is a
better choice when the alternative is a weak distracter.
Effective Multiple Choice Questions:
Guidelines for Writing Multiple Choice Questions:
Constructing good multiple choice items requires plenty of time for writing,
review, and revision. If you write a few questions after class each day when
the material is fresh in your mind, the exam is more likely to reflect your
teaching emphases than if you wait to write them all later. Writing
questions on three-by-five index cards or in a word-processing program will
allow you to re-arrange, add, or discard questions easily.
The underlying principle in constructing good multiple choice questions is
simple: the questions must be asked in a way that neither rewards "test
wise" students nor penalizes students whose test-taking skills are less
The following guidelines will help you develop questions that measure
learning rather than skill in taking tests.
Writing the Stem:
The "stem" of a multiple-choice item poses a problem or states a question.
The basic rule for stem-writing is that students should be able to
understand the question without reading it several times and without
having to read all the options.
a. Write the stem as a single, clearly-stated problem. Direct questions
are best, but incomplete statements are sometimes necessary to avoid
awkward phrasing or convoluted language.
b. State the question as briefly as possible, avoiding wordiness and
undue complexity. In higher-level questions the stem will normally be
longer than in lower-level questions, but you should still be brief.
c. State the question in positive form because students often misread
negatively phrased questions. If you must write a negative stem,
emphasize the negative words with underlining or all capital letters.
Do not use double negatives--e.g., "Which of these is not the least
important characteristic of the Soviet economy?"
Writing the Responses:
Multiple-choice questions should usually have either four or five options to
make it difficult for students to guess the correct answer. The basic rules
for writing responses are:
a. Students should be able to select the right response without having to
sort out complexities that have nothing to do with knowing the correct
b. They should not be able to guess the correct answer from the way the
responses are written.
Write the correct answer immediately after writing the
stem and make sure it is unquestionably correct. In the
case of "best answer" responses, it should be the answer
that authorities would agree is the best.
Write the incorrect options to match the correct response
in length, complexity, phrasing, and style. You can
increase the believability of the incorrect options by
including extraneous information and by basing the
distractors on logical fallacies or common errors, but avoid
using terminology that is completely unfamiliar to
Avoid composing alternatives in which there are only
microscopically fine distinctions between the answers,
unless the ability to make these distinctions is a
significant objective in the course.
Avoid using "all of the above" or "both A & B" as
responses. These options make it possible for students to
guess the correct answer with only partial knowledge.
Furthermore, these types of responses make it all
but impossible to randomize responses.
Use the option "none of the above" with extreme caution.
It is only appropriate for exams in which there are
absolutely correct answers, like math tests, and it should
be the correct response about 25% of the time in four-
Again, you cannot randomize responses when using
the "none of the above" response option.
Avoid giving verbal clues that give away the correct
answer. These include: grammatical or syntactical errors;
key words that appear only in the stem and the correct
response; stating correct options in textbook language and
distractors in everyday language; using absolute terms--
e.g., "always, never, all," in the distractors; and using two
responses that have the same meaning.
a. Base each question on student learning objectives, not trivial
b. All questions should stand on their own.
o Avoid using questions that depend on knowing the answers to
other questions on the test.
o Also, check your exam to see if information given in some items
provides clues to the answers on others.
c. Develop a "randomly generated " exam from a question pool.
o The question pool should contain at least three questions for
each question used in the exam.
So, a 15-question exam should be generated from a pool
of at least 45 questions.
d. Randomize the position of the correct responses.
o Placing responses in alphabetical order will usually do the job.
o Remember, you can not randomize responses containing the
All of the above.
None of the above.
A and B above.
C2.1 Level 1: Knowledge
At this level, one simply requires the recall of acquired knowledge. WARNING! A test at this
level can easily become a "Trivial Pursuit" exercise!
Which one of the following persons is the author of "Das Kapital"?
Note that the responses are internally consistent - they are all the names of Germans whose
written work have been major contributions on social issues.
In the area of physical science, which one of the following definitions
describes the term "polarization"?
1. The separation of electric charges by friction.
2. The ionization of atoms by high temperatures.
3. The interference of sound waves in a closed chamber.
4. The excitation of electrons by high frequency light.
5. The vibration of transverse waves in a single plane.
Simple recall of the correct definition of polarization (#5) is required. Internal consistency and
plausibility are maintained in that all responses are actual physical phenomena.
According to the microgenesis of perception concept, the threshold
of awareness consists of a hierarchy of thresholds. Which one of the
sequences shown below is correct?
1. Recognition thresholds > physiological thresholds > detection
2. Physiological thresholds > detection thresholds > recognition
3. Physiological thresholds > recognition thresholds > detection
4. Recognition thresholds > detection thresholds > physiological
In this example, nothing more is required than the recall of the order of certain pieces of related
information. The correct answer is #2.
C2.2 Level 2. Comprehension
At this level, knowledge of facts, theories, procedures etc. is assumed, and one tests for
understanding of this knowledge.
Which one of the following describes what takes place in the so-called
PREPARATION stage of the creative process, as applied to the solution
of a particular problem?
1. The problem is identified and defined.
2. All available information about the
problem is collected.
3. An attempt is made to see if the proposed
solution to the problem is acceptable.
4. The person goes through some experience
leading to a general idea of how the problem
can be solved.
5. The person sets the problem aside, and gets
involved with some other unrelated activity.
In this question, the knowledge of the five stages of the creative process must be recalled
(KNOWLEDGE), and one is tested for an understanding (COMPREHENSION) of the meaning
of each term, in this case, "preparation".
Note that this question violates the rule that the answer and distractors should all be of about the
same length. It is difficult to get around this one here, so the text is edited so that each line is
about the same length.
C2.3 Level 3: Application
In order to classify a question into this group, ask yourself if prior knowledge of the background
to the question is assumed to be both known and understood, and whether one is merely expected
to apply this knowledge and understanding. Calculations based on known formulae are good
examples of this, as shown in the example below:
Which one of the following values approximates best to the
volume of a sphere with radius 5m?
In order to answer this question, the formula 4[pi]r³ /3 must be known (recall of knowledge) and
the meaning of the various symbols in the formula understood (comprehension) in order to
answer this question. The correct answer is #3.
Which one of the following memory systems does a piano-tuner
mainly use in his occupation?
1. Echoic memory.
2. Short-term memory.
3. Long-term memory.
4. Mono-auditory memory.
5. None of the above.
This is clearly a case of testing for the application of previously acquired knowledge (the various
memory systems), which is also understood, as the meaning of each term must be clear before
the student can decide whether it is applicable to the given situation. The correct answer is #1.
Note that students may not necessarily know what a piano- tuner is or does. Watch out for
The next example is more difficult to classify:
You are the sole owner and manager of a small enterprise
employing 15 workers. One of these, Alfred, (who has been
working for you for the past year and has somewhat of a
history of absenteeism), arrives late for work one Wednesday
morning, noticeably intoxicated. Which one of the following
actions is the most appropriate in the circumstances?
1. You terminate Alfred's employment on the spot, paying him
the wages still due to him.
2. You parade Alfred in front of the other workers, to teach them
all a lesson.
3. You give Alfred three weeks' wages in lieu of notice, and
4. You wait until Alfred is sober, discuss his problem, and give
him a final written warning, should it be required.
5. You call Alfred's wife to take him home and warn her that this
must not happen again.
Note that this this question is classified as APPLICATION as in order to answer it, the relevant
labour legislation should be known and understood. One could made a case for it to have a
higher classification such as EVALUATION, on the grounds that one is asked to evaluate which
one of the proposed actions is the best in the circumstances, or ANALYSIS, on the grounds that
in order to select the most appropriate answer, one should analyse the possible outcomesof each
decision. For both these levels, one would expect a greater amount of information as to Alfred's
situation, the relationship between Alfred and his co-workers, union involvement in the
enterprise etc., and have a more sophisticated set of distractors. Here, option #4 is clearly the best
both on legal and human terms. Note that the figure of speech "on the spot" may not be
understood by second- language students. Use suitable language!
C2.4 Level 4: Analysis
"The story is told of the famous German Organic Chemist
Auguste Kékulé who was struggling with the problem of how
the six carbon atoms of benzene were linked together. He was
getting nowhere with the problem, and one day fell asleep in
front of the fireplace while he was pondering on it. He
dreamt of molecules twisting and turning around like snakes.
Suddenly, one of the snakes swallowed its own tail and
rolled around like a hoop. Kékulé woke up with a start, and
realized that his problem could be solved if the six carbon
atoms of benzene were attached to each other to form a ring.
Further work showed that this was entirely correct."
The above passage illustrates a particular phase of the
creative process. Which one is it?
In the above example, the student is expected to know and understand the five stages of the
creative process, and to apply this knowledge to an important factual example of creative
thinking (the elucidation of the chemical structure of the benzene molecule). The ability to
analyse the data (i.e. the given text) in terms of each of the five stages is what is being tested.
The correct answer, by the way, is #4.
Example C2.4.2 (Assume the question below is asked in a philosophy test.)
Read carefully through the paragraph below, and decide which
of the options 1-5 is correct.
"The basic premise of pragmatism is that questions posed by
speculative metaphysical propositions can often be answered
by determining what the practical consequences of the
acceptance of a particular metaphysical proposition are in
this life. Practical consequences are taken as the criterion
for assessing the relevance of all statements or ideas about
truth, norm and hope."
1. The word "acceptance" should be replaced by "rejection".
2. The word "often" should be replaced by "only".
3. The word "speculative" should be replaced by "hypothetical".
4. The word "criterion" should be replaced by "measure".
This question requires prior knowledge of and understanding about the concept of pragmatism.
The paragraph, seen in this light, contains one word which vitiates its validity, and the student is
tested on his/her ability to analyze it to see whether it fits with the accepted definition of
pragmatism. With this in mind, #2 is correct. Option #1 would degrade the paragraph further,
while #3 and #4 would simply result in changing to acceptable synonyms. Note that this question
does not address Level 6 (Evaluation), as one is not asked to pass a value judgement on the text.
This must be considered as a very difficult question, and will obviously require a high level of
reading skills. Bear in mind that there will be a significant time factor involved.
Look at the following table and indicate which countries'
statistics are being reported in rows A, B and C.
GNP per Growth rate of Population Structures of total employment
capita 1991 GNP per capita growth rate 1980-85 (percentages)
($ USA) p.a. 1980-91 1980-91 Agriculture Industry Services
A 500 2,5% 1,5% 51 20 29
B 1570 5,8% 1,6% 74 8 8
S.A. 2560 0,7% 2,5% 17 36 36
C 25110 1,7% 0,3% 6 32 32
Choose your answer from the following list of possible
1. A is South Korea; B is Kenya; C is Canada.
2. A is Sri Lanka; B is Germany; C is Thailand.
3. A is Sri Lanka; B is Thailand; C is Sweden.
4. A is Namibia; B is Portugal; C is Botswana.
In order to answer this question, students must be able to recall the relative economic rankings of
various countries (KNOWLEDGE) and understand the basis for such a ranking
(COMPREHENSION). They must be able to apply these concepts when information is supplied
to them (APPLICATION), and they must be able to ANALYZE the given information in order
to answer the question. Students did not like this question when they were faced with it in a class
test, as their immediate reaction was that "it was impossible to remember the statistics for all the
countries that were discussed in class and given to them in handouts". They were surprised when
told that such detailed knowledge was in fact not expected of them, but that they were to
examine the table and perform a ranking on the basis of concepts that they should have mastered.
The correct answer is 3.
C2.5 Level 6: Evaluation
At this level, one is asked to pass judgement on, for example, the logical consistency of written
material, the validity of experimental procedures or interpretation of data.
A student was asked the following question: "Briefly list
and explain the various stages of the creative process".
As an answer, this student wrote the following:
"The creative process is believed to take place in five
stages, in the following order: ORIENTATION, when the
problem must be identified and defined, PREPARATION, when
all the possible information about the problem is
collected, INCUBATION, when there is a period where no
solution seems in sight and the person is often busy with
other tasks, ILLUMINATION, when the person experiences
a general idea of how to arrive at a solution to the
problem, and finally VERIFICATION, when the person
determines whether the solution is the right one for the
How would you judge this student' s answer?
1. EXCELLENT (all stages correct in the right order
with clear and correct explanations)
2. GOOD (all stages correct in the right order, but the
explanations are not as clear as they should be).
3. MEDIOCRE (one or two stages are missing OR the
stages are in the wrong order, OR the explanations
are not clear OR the explanations are irrelevant)
4. UNACCEPTABLE (more than two stages are missing
AND the order is incorrect AND the explanations
are not clear AND/OR they are irrelevant)
In the above question, one is expected to make value judgment on the content of the given text
(KNOWLEDGE of the subject is required), the meaning of the terminology used
(COMPREHENSION of the subject matter), and its structure (ANALYSIS of the answer for the
right order of events. The correct answer here is #1, but suitable modification of the putative
student answer could provide a small bank of questions with other correct answers
Another example is the "Assertion/Reason" question, in which two statements linked by
"BECAUSE" have to be evaluated in the light of certain criteria:
Judge the sentence in italics according to the criteria
"The United States took part in the Gulf War against Iraq
BECAUSE of the lack of civil liberties imposed on the Kurds
by Saddam Hussein's regime."
a. The assertion and the reason are both correct, and the
reason is valid.
b. The assertion and the reason are both correct, but the
reason is invalid.
c The assertion is correct but the reason is incorrect.
d. The assertion is incorrect but the reason is correct.
e. Both the assertion and the reason are incorrect.
The correct answer is "b", since while it is true that the United States took part in the Gulf War, it
is also true that the Kurds in Iraq did not (and still do not) enjoy an abundance of civil liberties,
but the threat to the US's oil supply as a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a much more
pertinent reason for the United States joining in the fray. A knowledge and understanding of
Middle East politics is assumed. What is tested here is the ability to evaluate the between cause
and effect in the sentence in terms of predefined criteria.
When designing items you should ask yourself which of the following
levels your ILO addresses and design the item to fit.
1. Remembering: Test of fact, basic concepts, recall of specific
Key words: What, select, where….
This is the simplest item to devise
2. Understanding: Test of understanding - more than recall,
Key words: Why, how, when.
3. Applying: applies knowledge in a new relevant situation/context
Key words: Choose, select, identify, which, what….
These can be scenario or case questions.
4. Analysing: Tests ability to make a judgement on the basis of
Key words: Decide, determine, evaluate, recommend, interpret,
These also can be scenario or case questions.
5. Evaluating: Tests ability to come to a conclusion given
Keywords: choose, conclude, decide, determine, evaluate, judge,
rate, assess, value, estimate.
Before writing, ensure that
• the MCQ format suits the purpose for assessment
• each item matches with one or more ILOs for the subject
• you use clear, direct and simple language
In writing stems, ensure that they
• are clear and unambiguous and so do not rely on high level
comprehension skills just to understand the question
• have only relevant text
• do not use negatives if at all possible
• have as much of the question as possible, so it is not
duplicated in the options. It is a good idea to write stems as
In writing the options and the distracters, ensure
• there is only one correct answer
• the distracters are credible but not too close to the correct
answer to be confusing
• to avoid ‘all are correct’ ‘none is correct’ choices
• they are culturally appropriate
• they are research/evidence-based, representing typical
misconceptions, preconceptions, or wrong answers.
The following are suggestions for writing successful questions.
Before you start writing each question, Give away answers to a previous
identify what it is you are trying to test - question with a later question - look
knowledge? understanding? at your test as a whole.
Consider the use of alternative question Include superfluous or irrelevant
formats if the simple format doesn't serve information in the stem.
Phrase questions as clearly and concisely Compose stems which give clues to
as possible, avoiding complex language. the key.
Write a stem which clearly specifies what Use negatives in the stem too often.
the question is asking for.
Include common information in the stem Write a key that is longer, more
rather than repeating it in the options. complex or more specific than the
Ensure any negatives in the stem are clearly Have more than one key (unless this
highlighted. is specified to students).
Make your distracters as plausible as Forget to randomise the location of
possible. the key within the options.
Focus on common student mistakes as Use questions without piloting them
areas for questions and/or distracters. on colleagues first.
There is no set rule about the number of options you should include. The greater the
options the smaller the mathematical chance of correct guesswork, but research shows
that questions with more options are not necessarily harder (see McKenna and Bull,
1999, p8), so you may be making unnecessary extra work for yourself. Be cautious
about using "all of the above" or "none of the above" to increase the number of
distracters. "All of the above" gives too much help to students with limited knowledge,
because it must be the correct answer if two of the distracters are true. "None of the
above" is less problematic (although it does not test that students actually know the
correct answer, only that they can eliminate wrong ones), but avoid over-using it and
make sure it is sometimes the correct answer, rather than an add-on because you are
stuck for a final distracter!
Avoiding common errors
The following are some 'poor' questions with suggestions as to how they can be
improved. For a thorough guide to drafting MCQs see McKenna and Bull (1999) and
Question 1: Which one of the following sections provides for the appointment of new
a. Section 40 of the Trustee Act 1925
b. Section 39 of the Trustee Act 1925
c. Section 36 of the Trustee Act 1925
d. Section 53 of the Trustee Act 1925
Here information is repeated in all the options needlessly. An improved question would
place common information ("of the Trustee Act 1925") in the stem rather than the
options. Note how the stem emphasises that there is only one correct answer.
Question 2: Equity looks to
a. Overrule the common law
b. Intent rather than form
c. Establish its superiority
d. The common law
This stem is vague. The purpose of the question could be made clearer by changing the
stem to "Complete the following equitable maxim. Equity looks to"
Question 3: Which one of the following is NOT an equitable maxim?
a. Equity looks to intent rather than form
b. Equity deserves obedience
c. He who comes to Equity must come with clean hands
d. Delay defeats equity
An acceptable question in itself but gives clues to the previous question. Always check
your test as a whole for hidden give-aways. Note how the negative in the stem is clearly
Question 4: Bill secretly wants to provide financially for his mistress Brenda when he is
dead without his wife finding out. Which of the following types of trust is the BEST way
for Bill to achieve his wishes?
a. A resulting trust
b. A secret trust
c. A constructive trust
d. A purpose trust
This question gives clues to the answer in the stem of the question.
Question 5: In which one of the following cases was Mr Hunter the settlor?
a. Oughtred v IRC
b. Grey v IRC
c. Vandervell v IRC
d. Broadway Cottages v IRC
This is a clearly phrased factual knowledge-based question. But how important is it that
students know the answer to this? Questions should relate to the intended learning
outcomes. In addition, an alert student might well have noticed by now the question-
setter's preference for (b) as the key and correctly choose Grey v IRC! Putting your
options in strict alphabetical order achieves randomisation and minimises the potential
for students to 'calculate' mathematically whether the answer 'must be' a particular
Drafting questions for different skills
useful for testing recall of factual points like terms, case names, section numbers
and procedures, for example: Which statement best defines the term...? Which
case is authority for the principle that...? Which statement best expresses the
can be combined with comprehension/application questions or used on their own
to test 'basics'
particularly useful as introductory questions in an MCQ test
can vary in difficulty, but avoid increasing the difficulty by setting questions on
obscure points beyond the intended learning outcomes
useful for testing students' ability to interpret or summarise primary and
can be used to encourage students to distinguish cases on their facts (see
the stem can be in the form of an analogy (see example B) to test students'
ability to compare and contrast material
especially valuable as a formative tool with feedback
useful to test students ability to apply knowledge to given scenarios (see
can be used in sequence from one problem scenario with increasing complexity
(see example D)
can vary in difficulty from comparatively straightforward to complex situations
can be used effectively in both formative and summative assessments
Example A: In relation to each of the cases listed below, how would you classify
the detriment on which the claimant relied?
a. Some direct financial contributions, but mainly sought to rely on indirect financial
b. Some indirect financial contributions, but mainly sought to rely on non-financial
c. Indirect financial contributions only
d. Non-financial contributions only
1. Burns v Burns
2. Midland Bank v Cooke
3. Eves v Eves
4. Lloyd's Bank v Rosset
5. Grant v Edwards
6. Cooke v Head
Example B: Within the Law of Property Act 1925, Section 53(1)(b) is to
declarations of trusts of land as Section 53(1)(c) is to:
a. Declarations of trusts of personality
b. Declarations of implied interests
c. Dispositions of secret trusts
d. Dispositions of equitable interests
Example C: Bill and Ben are trustees of a large trust fund. The beneficiaries,
Charles and Camilla are contingently entitled to the fund. Bill and Ben wish to use
income from the fund to pay for Charles and Camilla to attend private school.
Which section of the Trustee Act 1925 would allow them to do so?
a. Section 31
b. Section 32
c. Section 52
d. Section 53
Example D: Raj and Sophie, who have never married, have two children; Ben
aged 8 and Shazia aged 2. Raj and Sophie's relationship has ended, and Sophie
has married Carlton. Raj has agreed that the children should live with Sophie and
Carlton for the time being.
For questions 1 - 8, the options are:
a. Raj and Sophie only
b. Raj, Sophie and Carlton
c. Sophie and Carlton only
d. Sophie only
e. Raj only
1. Who has parental responsibility for the children at present?
2. If section 8 orders are required in respect of the children, who could apply as of right
(without leave) for any section 8 order?
3. And who would be able to apply as of right (without leave) for a residence or contact
4. If Raj obtained a contact order to see the children every week, who would have
parental responsibility for the children?
It is two years later. Ben is now aged 10 and Shazia is aged 4. Raj obtains a
residence order so that Ben can live with him. Sophie and Carlton adopt Shazia.
5. Who now has parental responsibility for Ben?
6. Who now has parental responsibility for Shazia?
It is three years later. Sophie and Carlton divorce. Sophie and Raj resume their
relationship and get married.
7. Who now has parental responsibility for Ben?
8. Who now has parental responsibility for Shazia?
Alternative question formats
Variations on the simple MCQ can provide more scope for testing particular skills and/or
to increase difficulty. With alternative question formats it is especially important to give
students the opportunity to 'practice' before completing a summative assessment. The
most common variation is the combined response question, for example:
Which two of the following requirements are necessary to create a valid fully secret
1. The terms must be communicated to the trustee
2. The beneficiaries must be named in the terms of the will
3. The terms must be communicated to the beneficiaries
4. The trustee must accept the terms of the trust
a. 1 and 2
b. 3 and 4
c. 1 and 4
d. 2 and 3
For other alternative question formats, see McKenna and Bull (1999) and Kehoe (1995).
We will first describe some basic rules for the construction of multiple-choice stems,
because they are typically, though not necessarily, written before the options.
1. Before writing the stem, identify the one point to be tested by that item. In
general, the stem should not pose more than one problem, although the solution to
that problem may require more than one step.
2. Construct the stem to be either an incomplete statement or a direct question,
avoiding stereotyped phraseology, as rote responses are usually based on verbal
stereotypes. For example, the following stems (with answers in parentheses)
illustrate undesirable phraseology:
What is the biological theory of recapitulation? (Ontogeny repeats phylogeny)
Who was the chief spokesman for the "American System?" (Henry Clay)
Correctly answering these questions likely depends less on understanding than on
recognizing familiar phraseology.
3. Avoid including nonfunctional words that do not contribute to the basis for
choosing among the options. Often an introductory statement is included to enhance
the appropriateness or significance of an item but does not affect the meaning of the
problem in the item. Generally, such superfluous phrases should be excluded. For
The American flag has three colors. One of them is (1) red (2) green (3) black
One of the colors of the American flag is (1) red (2) green (3) black
In particular, irrelevant material should not be used to make the answer less
obvious. This tends to place too much importance on reading comprehension as a
determiner of the correct option.
4. Include as much information in the stem and as little in the options as possible.
For example, if the point of an item is to associate a term with its definition, the
preferred format would be to present the definition in the stem and several terms as
options rather than to present the term in the stem and several definitions as
5. Restrict the use of negatives in the stem. Negatives in the stem usually require
that the answer be a false statement. Because students are likely in the habit of
searching for true statements, this may introduce an unwanted bias.
6. Avoid irrelevant clues to the correct option. Grammatical construction, for
example, may lead students to reject options which are grammatically incorrect as
the stem is stated. Perhaps more common and subtle, though, is the problem of
common elements in the stem and in the answer. Consider the following item:
What led to the formation of the States' Rights Party?
a. The level of federal taxation
b. The demand of states for the right to make their own laws
c. The industrialization of the South
d. The corruption of federal legislators on the issue of state taxation
One does not need to know U.S. history in order to be attracted to the answer, b.
Other rules that we might list are generally commonsensical, including
recommendations for independent and important items and prohibitions against
complex, imprecise wording.
Following the construction of the item stem, the likely more difficult task of
generating options presents itself. The rules we list below are not likely to simplify
this task as much as they are intended to guide our creative efforts.
1. Be satisfied with three or four well constructed options. Generally, the minimal
improvement to the item due to that hard-to-come-by fifth option is not worth the
effort to construct it. Indeed, all else the same, a test of 10 items each with four
options is likely a better test than a test with nine items of five options each.
2. Construct distractors that are comparable in length, complexity and grammatical
form to the answer, avoiding the use of such words as "always," "never," and "all."
Adherence to this rule avoids some of the more common sources of biased cueing.
For example, we sometimes find ourselves increasing the length and specificity of
the answer (relative to distractors) in order to insure its truthfulness. This,
however, becomes an easy-to-spot clue for the testwise student. Related to this issue
is the question of whether or not test writers should take advantage of these types
of cues to construct more tempting distractors. Surely not! The number of students
choosing a distractor should depend only on deficits in the content area which the
item targets and should not depend on cue biases or reading comprehension
differences in "favor" of the distractor.
3. Options which read "none of the above," "both a. and e. above," "all of the above,"
_etc_., should be avoided when the students have been instructed to choose "the
best answer," which implies that the options vary in degree of correctness. On the
other hand, "none of the above" is acceptable if the question is factual and is
probably desirable if computation yields the answer. "All of the above" is never
desirable, as one recognized distractor eliminates it and two recognized answers
4. After the options are written, vary the location of the answer on as random a
basis as possible. A convenient method is to flip two (or three) coins at a time where
each possible Head-Tail combination is associated with a particular location for the
answer. Furthermore, if the test writer is conscientious enough to randomize the
answer locations, students should be informed that the locations are randomized.
(Testwise students know that for some instructors the first option is rarely the
5. If possible, have a colleague with expertise in the content area of the exam review
the items for possible ambiguities, redundancies or other structural difficulties.
Having completed the items we are typically so relieved that we may be tempted to
regard the task as completed and each item in its final and permanent form. Yet,
another source of item and test improvement is available to us, namely, statistical
analyses of student responses.
Put as much of the question in the stem as possible, rather
than duplicating material in each of the options. (Gronlund
A : Weak question
Theorists of pluralism have asserted which of the following?
a. The maintenance of democracy requires a large middle class.
b. The maintenance of democracy requires autonomous centres of
c. The maintenance of democracy requires the existence of a multiplicity of
d. The maintenance of democracy requires a predominantly urban
e. The maintenance of democracy requires the separation of governmental
B : Improved question
Theorists of pluralism have asserted that the maintenance of democracy requires
a. a large middle class
b. autonomous centres of contervailing power
c. the existence of a multiplicity of religious groups
d. a predominantly urban population
e. the separation of governmental powers
Basic Tips for Writing Effective Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ’s):
A Compilation of the Most Useful Advice
Jennifer Murdock, Department of Economics, U of T
To define terms, here is a sample multiple choice question where the correct answer is (E):
(1) List the alternatives vertically and in a logical order. These two points are illustrated by
the sample multiple choice question above. Students who know the correct answer can
quickly find it. Also, a jumbled order can be distracting to some students.
(2) Make the question as direct and clear as possible. Questions can degenerate into a test
of logic if you use double negatives and complex structures.
(3) Make sure there is only one unambiguously correct response.
(4) Create plausible distracters that would sound right to an incompetent student but are
clearly wrong. You can include common misconceptions, common mistakes, and
technical jargon to make distracters more effective.
(5) Instruct students to choose the “best answer” rather than “the correct answer.” This helps
avoid argument and allows you to skip specifying rounding conventions (for example, the
answer to the sample question above was 23.1678…).
(6) Write the question stem such that students can quickly and easily deduce what the
question is asking. Students should not have to read all of the alternatives to figure this
out. When possible, write stems as you would an open-ended question such that if a
proficient student were given the question stem s/he could write out the correct response.
(7) Don’t get too fancy with your English and the subtleties of the English language. If you do,
students who do not have English as their first language may get your question wrong
even though they knew the concept you were trying to test.
(8) Use negatives sparingly and emphasize them if used. For example, “For which of the
following population density functions is the population mean NOT equal to the population
median?” There is some evidence that ESL students are particularly disadvantaged by
(20) If marks are normally distributed with mean
68 and standard deviation 15, what percent of
students have a mark of 79 or higher?
(9) While you may want to emphasize words in the question stem to help comprehension,
emphasis in the alternatives should be avoided.
(10) Keep the question stem and alternatives as short as possible. Use few words. Avoid
repeating words from the question stem in the alternatives.
(11) Before writing a question, think about what it is that you want to test. Lecture notes,
textbook readings, assigned problems, and other course materials can be inspiration.
(12) Use “None of the above” with caution. You can make straightforward numeric calculation
questions more challenging by including “None of the above” as an option (may need to
specify rounding conventions). For other types of questions, you need to think carefully
about whether there are some plausible arguments a proficient student could make to
support choosing this alternative when you intended it as a wrong answer. If you want to
save time writing questions don’t use “None of the above.”
(13) Do not include alternatives such as “Both (A) and (D)” or “All but (C)” as these complicate
the structure of the question and tend to confuse students and/or slow them down. If you
want to convince yourself, look at someone else’s questions that use these and see how
much harder it is to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.
(14) Be aware of the difficulty level of each question. Make sure you have a sufficient number
of easy and more challenging questions so that you will be able to separate “F” students
from “D” students, “D” from “C” students, “C” from “B” students, and “B” from “A” students.
Easier questions test a student’s knowledge. For example, do they know what selection
bias is. Medium difficultly questions test comprehension. Does a student understand
under what conditions selection bias might arise? Harder questions test a student’s ability
to apply concepts and do analysis. For example, give students a scenario where they
need to realize that selection bias would be a concern (without being told) and to
understand the implications of that bias on inference in that case.
(15) Try to make the first few multiple choice questions relatively quick and easy to help calm
student down so they can focus on the more challenging questions to come.
(16) Avoid the temptation to test many things in one question. If it is possible, try to write more
than one multiple choice question rather than test multiple concepts in one question.
Testing too many things in one question reduces your ability to discriminate amongst
students with differing levels of understanding. Further, students get upset because there
is no partial credit.
(17) Ask more than one question when a fair amount of information must be provided as it
takes time for students to carefully read and understand the information you provide in a
test. For example, you could give them a table of results, a graph, or a scenario and then
ask two or three different multiple choice questions about it.
(18) Five alternatives (A) – (E) are recommended. You cannot include more than five with our
Scantron forms. You could include only three or four, but this increases the expected
value of guessing. There is no reason all of your questions have to have the same number
Basic Tips for MCQ’s (July 20, 2006)
(19) This table shows some common strategies test-wise students, who are skilled test takers
but not proficient in the course material, can use to guess correct answers and how you
can respond. Some are adapted from Russell A. Dewey, “Writing Multiple Choice Items
which Require Comprehension” http://www.psywww.com/selfquiz/aboutq.htm.
(20) Do not try to write the entire test in one day: it takes time, creativity and thought to write
good multiple choice questions. You could write a few each week as you teach the
material or as you get ideas based on students’ questions or performance on homework.
(21) Come back to the questions you’ve written a day or two later with a fresh eye.
(22) Ask trusted TA or a colleague to try your questions to sort out any ambiguities (especially
if you’re using these questions for a final examination).
Some of the most important tips for writing effective multiple-choice questions are:
Have most of the relevant information in the stem or “question”, and only list short answers - one word or short
phrases - as options. In fact, the question should be answerable without looking at any of the options.
Write questions which require students to reason out a solution rather than simply recall facts and figures.
Use plausible distractors for the different options - the aim should be that each option would be selected by at least
Make sure all the options follow on grammatically from the question.
Have an answer which would be agreed upon by a group of experts. If a group of experts would have difficulty
reaching consensus on the correct answer, the question is not valid.
Do not use vague terms such as rarely, often, commonly, frequently, usually - experts can’t agree on what these
mean, let alone students.