GUIDELINES FOR WRITING EFFECTIVE MULTIPLE CHOICE ITEMS FOR A TEST

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As mentioned in one of the previous items, MC should never be part of the classroom assessment. Multiple Choice is best set and used by other stakeholders such as research institutions and examinations boards.

They are especially good for differentiating between examinees with high and low levels of knowledge. The purpose for classroom assessment is predominantly diagnostic. As such, multiple choice questions provide little diagnostic information for use during the process of learning.

What is colloquially referred to as a question in a test is most appropriately termed an item. This is because in most cases, it is not a question, but a statement, an incomplete sentence, essay, or real-life performance tasks.

The stem is the initial part of the item that presents what is to be answered.  In certain types of assessment, stems often is accompanied by a prompt or stimulus.  For example, the stem could contain a reading passage, reference charts, graphs, or audio of someone speaking, after which a specific question is presented, Sometimes the stem material.

The multiple choice items that we will deal with in this article are the single-select multiple options. In this type of multiple choice, the learner is required to select only one correct option. It must be mentioned that to craft a good multiple choice test is not an easy task. It requires the highest level of expertise in test development. Multiple choice items are easily responded to and involve guesswork. Sometimes the learner’s correct response does not correspond to his/her level of knowledge on the subject matter. 

Multiple choice item is essentially made up of the stem and the options. The options are a set of answers from which the learner selects the correct one. As such all should be crafted to be plausible answers. There should be only one correct option called the key. Other wrong plausible options acre called distractors.

The following are some of the rules for writing multiple choice items:

Provide sufficient information in the stem to make the item clear and unambiguous to learners. In nearly all cases, the question must be able to stand alone, and be answerable without the response options.

Use as many options as is feasible. Research has shown that using three to five options is more desirable. 

Avoid clues and cues for the test taker. An example of this would be whereby the distractors start with a consonant while only the key starts with a vowel, to a completion statement which ends with the word ‘’an’’.

Avoid the use of “All of the above,” “none of the above”, “I don’t know’’, and “A and B only”, in the options as they can be confusing.

Avoid using these words in the stem “always” and “never” because there might be rare unanticipated cases.

Avoid repetition of text in each option, rather put it in the stem so it is used only once.

Craft the options to be independent of each other. There shouldn’t be any overlaps in options.

It is preferable to state the stem in a question form than the completion form.

Keep options homogeneous in content, length, and grammatical structure.

Do not use negatives or double negatives – those containing words such as not, least, worst, except. If it is unavoidable, highlight the negative word.

Each item should have one correct option and plausible distractors.

Arrange the response options in a logical order or numerical order. Otherwise, sort shortest to longest.

Avoid inadvertent clues such as: always making the correct option the longest, repeating words in the options that are in the stem, using specific determiners such as ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘all’ ‘every’, etc.

Yes, It’s Possible!

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