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Multiple choice questions (MCQs) have long been used as an objective method of assessing student learning. Although they are usually associated with testing recall, it is possible to write MCQs that target higher levels of learning.
As a reminder, a multiple choice question consists of a stem and a set of alternatives for answering the question or completing the statement. Among the alternatives, there is only one correct answer; the others are distractors.
The stem should be stated clearly and precisely. Try to avoid using negatives in the stem and eliminate extraneous information. For the alternatives, create plausible distractors. Do not provide clues but avoid being unnecessarily confusing. Make the alternatives as short as possible. If you find that all the alternatives include the same wording, put that language in the stem to reduce the reading load.
Writing High Level MCQs
|Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies six levels of learning, with Knowledge at the lowest level and Evaluation at the highest. Especially if your MCQs will be used in an open book exam, it is best to avoid questions that test only for knowledge/recall. Questions written at the Application, Analysis, and Evaluation levels enable students to demonstrate knowledge and apply their understanding to novel cases. Because synthesis requires students to create something new, it is not possible to write MCQs at this level.|
Let’s look at an example of a question written at the Analysis level, one that asks students to demonstrate their understanding of a framework, Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. The MCQ presents students with an example of an instructional activity, one that is similar, but not identical, to examples from their readings and they are asked to correctly identify the element of the framework at which the activity occurs.
To ensure that students really are using their judgment to select the best answer and not just guessing, you can provide a couple of blank lines after the question asking them to explain why they chose their answer.
Here’s another example of a question that presents students with a novel case and asks them to correctly identify the leadership style the case demonstrates.
For an excellent resource on MCQs, take a look at the booklet prepared by Brigham Young University Testing Services entitled How to Prepare Better Multiple-Choice Test Items: Guidelines for University Faculty by S. J. Burton, R. R. Sudweeks, P. F. Merrill, and B. Wood.
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