Not the most exciting post for my readership, perhaps, but you two could improve any teaching you do if you learned about it: multiple choice questions. My supervisor, Brad Batdorf, Ed.D., recently gave a talk on the subject and gave me permission to share with you his excellent points.
Advantages of Multiple Choice Questions
- Multiple choice questions are versatile because they can go up and down Bloom’s taxonomy [in other words, they can be about something as important but low-level as remembering, or they can demand greater capacities for understanding, analysis, or evaluation].
- They can range in difficulty by what wrong answers you include
- They can achieve high “validity” (i.e., they can demonstrate whether or not students truly knew the answer and weren’t just good guessers) and reliability (as indicators of class-wide knowledge).
- They are efficient because they can be scored quickly.
Limitations of Multiple Choice Questions
- Multiple choice questions are limited because students can still guess (though odds are low that a pure guesser will pass).
- They are limited because they can’t get to all kinds of knowledge.
- They are difficult to construct—if done well.
The Anatomy of Multiple Choice Questions
- The stem—the “question,” as it were—should clearly present a problem.
- It should clearly relate to a learning objective.
- It should be stated in a positive way.
- “All of these except…” or “Which of these is not…”—these formulations can be confusing, especially if there’s a “not” among the answers.
- Those questions also test mainly the negative, not whether or not they know the positive answer.
- It should not give clues for answering other questions.
- It should not exclude info repeated in the answers.
The Alternatives (A., B., C., D., etc.)
- Alternatives should be concise to avoid unnecessary reading time for slow readers.
- They should be mutually exclusive.
- They should all relate to the stem in the same kind of way.
- Don’t make questions which reward test-savvy but instead content mastery
- Avoid implausible alternatives (jokes, etc.).
- Avoid keywords from the stem.
- You can glean plausible alternatives from wrong student answers in class or on previous tests.
- Avoid “all of the above” or “none of the above.”
- The latter may have more usefulness.
- “All of the above” is a guessing aid because it can be eliminated if there is one wrong answer; it can be selected automatically if there are two correct answers.
- A “functional” distractor has positive discrimination; “non-functional” distractors are those never chosen by students.
- Have answer appear randomly, approximately the same number of times in each position. (Teachers who aren’t random usually put the right answer in B. or C.)
- Alternatives should not distinguish good readers from bad.
- Analyze the effectiveness of each item.
- Don’t word alternatives ambiguously.
- Don’t deal only with recall (the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy).