Creating multiple choice tests is no easy feat and many instructors struggle with composing the perfect question for specific learning goals. Good questions shouldn’t be too easy or too hard but they also should make the student really think about what they learned in the course. Here are some of the common mistakes made in multiple choice tests and how to avoid making them.
The most easily fixed problems deal mainly with wording and answer language, and when corrected will “level the playing field” and not reward students who simply have better test-taking skills. A common issue with multiple choice questions is that they are not actually testing the student’s knowledge of the subject, but rather their ability to take a test well. This is due to the set up of the questions and their answer choices. Several errors can be made which give away the answer or encourage students to select incorrect ones.
An often-made mistake is to include cues in the answer options which highlight the correct answer or a blatantly wrong one. If the correct option is significantly longer than the others, it appears “too long to be wrong” and students will go right for it. To fix this, ensure that all the answer choices are of similar length to keep one from sticking out.
Students can easily eliminate wrong choices that have nothing to do with the question. If the question is “When did America declare Independence from Britain?” an obviously wrong answer would be “2012.” To prevent incredibly obvious questions, make the wrong answers at least somewhat plausible, and similar in structure to the correct answer choice.
Word choice also plays a role in writing good multiple-choice questions. A common mistake is to have the correct answer use the same words or wording as the question. A choice that repeats wording quickly identifies itself as correct, and thus eliminating repeat words will prevent this from happening. If an option does not use the correct grammar found in the question (such as mistaking a/an or singular/plural), it is a dead giveaway as being incorrect. A quick check for consistency will solve this.
A classic test-taking strategy is to select a middle option as the answer (usually C or D in multiple-choice questions). Students, when reduced to guessing, will statistically choose these middle options, so it is important that they are not the correct answer for too many of the questions. If they are, students can guess, select them, and raise their score without actually knowing the answers.
Test-savvy students also look out for answer choices that simply combine elements from the other questions. Avoid this by ensuring that the correct answer doesn’t just have more common elements than the others. Similar to the “too long to be wrong” rule, this is a cue and an easy giveaway.
With these tips in mind, you can write better, concise, and fairer questions for your students on test day.