Writing Test Items for Exams with Power: Part III Multiple Choice Items

Multiple choice items are probably the most popular objective item that is used for tests. The advantage of multiple-choice items in comparison to true and false and matching is that multiple choice can assess higher levels of thinking. In other words, multiple choice items can go beyond recall and deal with matters such as application and justification

There are two components to a multiple choice item. The statement or question of the multiple choice item is called the stem. The answer choices are called options. There are usually four or five options per stem for multiple choice items.

Below are some tips for developing multiple choice items

Stem Clues

A stem clue is when the words in the stem are similar to the words in the options. This similarity serves as a signal for sharp students. Consider the example…

When the Israelites were in Canaan, which of the following was a threat to them?
A. Canaanites
B. Indians
C. Americans
D. Spanish

The word Canaan is in the stem and the word Canaanites is one of the options and most students would rightly guess it is the correct answer.

Grammatical Clues

Sometimes grammar can give the answer away. Take a look at the example.

Steve Jobs was an____________.
A. Lawyer
B. Doctor
C. Entrepreneur
D. Movie Star

The give away here is the indefinite article “an” in the stem. Only the option “entrepreneur” can be correct grammatically.

Unequal Option Lengths

The longest answer is often the correct answer for whatever reason. I do not think this requires an example.

Other Uses of Multiple Choice

Multiple choice can also be used for higher level thinking. For example, in mathematics a teacher writes a word problem and provides several options as potential answer. The student must calculate the correct answer on a separate piece of paper and then select the correct answer on the test.

For geography, a teacher can provide a map and have students answer multiple choice items about the map. Students must use the map to find the answers. These are just some of many ways that multiple choice items can go beyond recall

Tips and Conclusion

Here are some simple tips for improving multiple choice items

  • All wrongs answers should be believable and related to the question
  • Avoid negative questions as they are confusing to many students
  • Make sure there is only one correct answer
  • Rotate the position of the correct answer. Remember the most common answer is “C.” Therefore, force yourself not to use this option too often

There is much more that can be said about this topic. However, for those new to developing multiple choice items the information provided will serve as starting point for developing your own way of developing test items.

4 thoughts on “Writing Test Items for Exams with Power: Part III Multiple Choice Items

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