Writing Test Questions
See the article below about choosing the right kind of assessment tool including a good checklist for instructors when looking at their assessments. The other article is an analysis of current research about how we write test questions and what are best practices.
There are two main types of test questions, defined response questions and constructed response questions. Defined response questions include true-false, matching, and multiple-choice questions. Constructed response questions include short-answer, essay, and oral examinations.
True-false questions seem easy to write but since most statements are not absolutely true or absolutely false, it can be difficult to write completely unambiguous true-false examinations. True-false questions tend to emphasize recall of isolated facts and often cannot be used to test higher level learning. The same is true for matching questions. Multiple-choice questions are the most common testing format and, if well constructed, can be used to test higher order learning. Some students will excel at multiple-choice examinations not because they have a great depth of knowledge but because they are good at finding clues in how assessments are written. Instructors always should strive to ensure assessments are permitting students to demonstrate the level of learning described in the course learning objectives. Here is a brief review of things to think about when writing multiple-choice questions.
Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are written with a stem and several possible answers, or foils. The following are basic rules of MCQ construction:
- Put the central idea in the stem and do not repeat it in the foils
- Avoid negative construction in the stem (“Which of the following is not correct…”)
- Use proper grammar and ensure the correct foil is not obvious because of grammar clues
- Do not use the terms “always” or “never” in foils
- Place foils in logical or numerical order
- Make sure foils are parallel with respect to grammatical structure, length, and complexity
- Use “none of the above” with caution; do not use “all of the above” as a foil
- Three foils is the best number, based on research evaluating number of plausible foils
- To write plausible foils, consider most common student misconceptions or create a short answer question one year and use student responses to create foils for the next year
- Do not worry excessively about distribution of answers; research suggests that students pay no attention to pattern of answers as a test-taking technique
- Use humor sparingly