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Assessment: Multiple-Choice Tests

Multiple-choice tests have a mixed reputation among faculty, many of whom believe they do not test higher levels of student learning. Nonetheless, they are widely used in higher education, especially in large classes. The articles and resources below provide guidelines for designing effective multiple-choice questions. Several of them demonstrate ways to write items that demand higher order thinking and deeper comprehension from students. The last two links contain material for specific disciplines and the basic and clinical sciences although the information is also useful in all subject areas.

"Improving Multiple-Choice Tests," Victoria L. Clegg and William E. Cashin, Kansas State University. (IDEA Paper No. 16, Kansas State University, September 1986).
Presents strengths and imitations of multiple-choice tests. Makes recommendations for when multiple-choice items should be used, offers detailed instructions on how to construct them, and suggests methods for organizing the entire test.

Improving Multiple Choice Questions (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Center for Teaching and Learning, For Your Consideration #8, November 1990).
Discusses the need to design exam items at three levels—recall, application, and evaluation—in order to achieve validity and reliability in multiple-choice exams that test higher order cognitive skills as well as factual information. Offers guidelines for writing questions and analyzing the responses after the test is given.

Authentic Assessment Toolbox, Jon Mueller, North Central College, Naperville, Illinois.
A guide for constructing multiple-choice test questions. Includes terminology; list of guidelines; and a section on creating higher-level comprehension, application, and analysis items, all with examples.

Writing Multiple Choice Questions that Demand Critical Thinking (University of Oregon, Teaching Effectiveness Program).
Many practical suggestions for writing effective items plus a detailed set of techniques for writing several different types of multiple-choice questions that demand higher order thinking, with examples of each.

"Writing Multiple Choice Questions which Require Comprehension," Russell A. Dewey, Ph.D., Georgia Southern University (Emeritus).
Another guide to writing multiple-choice questions. Has useful section on ways to defeat the "test-wise" strategies of students who don’t study.

"Writing Multiple-Choice Test Items," Jerard Kehoe, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
General how-to information on constructing multiple-choice tests.

"More Multiple-Choice Item Writing Do’s and Don’ts," Robert B. Frary, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 4 (11).
A list of recommendations for writing multiple-choice test items. Covers content, structure, options, and errors to avoid. Includes examples of do’s and don’ts for each topic.

Designing and Managing MCQs (University of Cape Town).
A faculty handbook for developing multiple-choice questions. Includes examples from first year courses in Philosophy of Education, Sociology, and Economics, plus a section on scoring and statistics.

"Constructing Written Test Questions for the Basic and Clinical Sciences" (National Board of Medical Examiners).
Although written for the sciences, this comprehensive manual has information useful to those writing multiple-choice test items in all subject areas. The complete manual is downloadable (free of charge for educational purposes) in PDF format, available in English, Spanish, or Russian.

See also on this website Assessment, Testing and Grading, for further information on test design.