How to write good multiple choice questions (MCQs)

How to write good multiple choice questions (MCQs)

As a student, the advice when attempting MCQs was “if you are unsure what the answer is, then go with the longest”. And in many cases, you’d probably be correct.

If you use MCQs to assess students then take a good look at your questions and response options. Ask yourself whether the correct response(s) are too obvious. If they are, it’s not a great quiz.

The time-honoured tips for creating MCQs include:-

When writing question prompts

  1. Write questions that are clearly linked to your assessment objective(s).
  2. Aim to make questions read as simply as possible. Generally it is better to write… “Which of the following are incorrect” rather than “which of the following are not true”.
  3. Include questions that challenge common misconceptions (usually off the back of marking lots of exam scripts where you learn of the common pitfalls that students make.

When writing possible responses to questions:

  1. Make sure that as many response options look plausible
  2. Avoid always making the correct response(s) the longest.

And don’t forget the feedback!

  1. Add feedback that appears afterwards (regardless of whether a student is correct or incorrect – they might have just got lucky!) to explain misconceptions and explain which answer is correct.

Keep in mind that MCQs hinge towards “recognition over recall” i.e. students only need to recognise what the answer is rather than having to recall it without any hints. Real exams don’t tend to have many MCQs, so my advice is to continue to favour exam practice over MCQs.

Students literally go wild for the likes of ‘Kahoot!’ MCQ quizzes, bouncing around to the theme. They are fabulous for engagement but often don’t have students thinking and reflecting carefully on their responses as they race to get the correct answer. For this reason I lean towards using them only as a special treat. “We can all be tempted to use existing quizzes but before doing so it is a good idea to check the quality of questions, otherwise it ends up being a not so productive use of time.

Having written the above, I find that good “low stakes” MCQs are a good way of reinforcing key knowledge and help to ‘refresh’ memories when questions are repeated over time. Over at Clickschool there is a ‘book revision quiz’ option. This self-paced quiz asks students a manageable 10 questions at a time that they have previously attempted, prioritising those that have been seen the least often. When used routinely at the start of lessons it can help students to remember more.

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