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Is Multiple Choice the Correct Answer for Your Exam?

Multiple choice questions (MCQ) are a favorite go-to when creating exams as they are quick to grade and easy to perform item analyses on. They can also be graded objectively, and answer options can always be reordered to create multiple versions to discourage cheating. However, MCQs are not always the best option for your test content. If you use this question type, ensure that you are doing so in a meaningful way.


“Multiple Choice Tests: Revisiting the Pros and Cons” published on the Faculty Focus website provides several ways to address issues with MCQs. Express English 412 has gone through and summarized the most helpful examples, including:

  • Time: MCQs can require students to perform higher-level skills, but creating these questions takes time. If you want to include MCQs that require test takers to apply or integrate knowledge, be sure to allow extra time to craft the questions and consider using only three answer options.

  • Stems: Writing good MCQs can take a bit of crafting. It’s important to remember to write clear stems that are concise and to refrain from using negation. Remember that if a student doesn’t know the question being asked, s/he will not know how to begin to answer the question. If a high-scoring student gets the question wrong, there might be a problem with the stem.

  • Answer options: The answer options to MCQs should all be around the same length and should all grammatically fit with the stem. Usually, students can guess the right answer if there is one choice that is longer than all of the others or if only one option that logically connects with the stem. You want to make sure that your options match the stem grammatically and are viable (re: not implausible or science fiction).

  • Guesses: Sometimes students can guess and answer a question correctly. Although the student may get the point, s/he is not demonstrating knowledge of the concept that you are testing. To discourage guessing, some instructors take points off for wrong answers so that students will only answer the questions that they know they know. Another option is to have students write their confidence level, with correct answers with higher confidence scores getting the most points.

  • Student preference: Students tend to prefer MCQs on tests because they consider them easier than questions that require them to produce their own answers. However, a good multiple choice question should force students to think rather than regurgitate answers.

by Kimberly Rehak for Express English 412


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