Tips for Writing MCQs

As creators and builders of quizzes and other assessments, we are often tasked with writing multiple choice questions.

A multiple choice question (MCQ) consists of a ‘stem’ (the main wording of the question), and ‘options’ (often labelled a, b, c, etc.). Within the options are the right answer(s) (often called the ‘key(s)’) and two or more wrong answers (these are called ‘distractors’).

When writing MCQs, put yourself in the learner’s shoes. I know it sounds obvious, but think about what your learners really need to know for their assessment and make sure that your questions correspond to the learning they have undertaken in their course.

I’ve compiled some tips for writing good MCQs, which I’ve split into four separate blog posts. This is the first, and the next three will be published in subsequent months.

MCQ (multiple choice questions) should be:

  • fair
  • clear
  • direct
  • unambiguous
  • related to the content of the course

In this post, I’ve written some example questions, showing that MCQs should have:

  • 3 – 4 options for one correct answer
  • 5 – 7 options for two, three, or four correct answers
  • realistic distractors

I’d also like to highlight that when writing MCQs, you should avoid:

  • ‘all of the above’
  • ‘none of the above’
  • two options that mean the same
  • assumption that the test candidate has prior knowledge about things not covered in your course

Writing good MCQs is challenging. Below are some examples of some poorly written MCQs and explanations for why they are not good questions.

Click on the answers to read why these do not work well as MCQs.

Are you guilty of any of the above? I know I am!

Have a go: Re-write any of the above questions to make them better.

Please feel free to share your questions, thoughts and comments below.

Latest posts by Tish Kirkland (see all)

Tish Kirkland

Instructional Designer, English Language Teacher, IELTS Writing Tutor.

2 thoughts on “Tips for Writing MCQs

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  • 25th October 2019 at 7:45 pm
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    Marvellous post Tish !
    I’ve lost track of the times I’ve seen badly written questions.
    Some of them, unbelievable, actually used for assessment of prior learning, or test of academic English for student acceptance.
    And it is so easy t todo this wrong.
    But it’s also very easy to do it better!
    I’d encourage anyone using quizzes and MCQ to read your post here, and revisit their Moodle question bank (or other) and check to see what they can improve!

    Reply

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