The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator
Writing Effective Multiple Choice Questions

Writing Effective Multiple Choice Questions

It’s already that time of year to write exam questions.  In the majority of the courses I teach, the format is multiple choice questions.  When I first started teaching, the extent of training I had in the arena of writing these types of exam questions was being told how many questions to write….and that was it.  There were a few teaching training sessions on the topic on campus, and I certainly had mentors sit with me to edit the questions I wrote, but the most learning in my first couple of years of teaching happened through trial and error.

A few years ago, I was asked to edit an online question bank by an education publishing company.  I thought it would be good experience, but what I didn’t count on was the fact that in the process, I would be exposed to some very good, practical information on how to write multiple choice questions. I was so excited to learn basic rules for writing good quality multiple choice questions. I was exposed to the work of Dr. David DiBattista. I have read his papers on the topic of multiple choice questions and have praised his work to every colleague I work with. I now pass on his guidelines to members of my teaching team, especially those who are new to teaching. If you struggle in this area, or even if you don’t, anyone who writes multiple choice questions needs to read his research.

In the season of midterms, I am thankful that I have a practical guide to help me do my job better with respect to writing effective multiple choice questions.  As hard as it is to admit, a lot of aspects of teaching isn’t intuitive and needs some good solid guidelines. Thankfully, others have already done the hard work and are willing to share with all the rest of us about what works and what doesn’t.  Education research is kind of awesome.

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