Use these tactical tips to help create effective multiple choice questions in Learn to Win.
1️⃣ The stem (more commonly referred to as ‘the prompt’) should be meaningful by itself and present a definite problem.
🔺 A stem that presents a definite problem creates a focus on a specific learning outcome 🆚 A stem that doesn’t present a clear problem may test a student’s ability to draw inferences from vague descriptions as opposed to the stem being a direct test of a student’s comprehension of the learning outcome
❌ Example of a stem which is not meaningful:
⇢ “Which of the following is a true statement?”
✅ Example of a stem which is better:
⇢ “Which characteristic is relatively constant amongst Chick-fil-a drive thrus across the country?
2️⃣ The stem should be negatively stated ONLY when significant learning outcomes require it. Otherwise, it should be avoided.
💠 Learners tend to have difficulty understanding items with negative phrasing.
💠 If a learning outcome warrants negative phrasing, you should emphasize the negative element with italics, bold, or CAPS.
❌ Poor Negative Phrasing: “Which of the following is not true about the mitochondria?”
✅ Better use of negative phrasing: “A water-type extinguisher is suitable for putting out a fire caused by burning all of the following except”
3️⃣ The stem should not contain irrelevant material.
💭 Stems containing irrelevant material decrease the reliability and validity of the test scores: they might not test what they set out to test.
😔 This is because irrelevant material increases the likelihood that students answer different questions that the learning objective tests.
⚠️ Example of a stem containing irrelevant material:
“The first yogi is said to have created practices 10,000 years ago which are still passed on today. For that reason, yoga is thought to be amongst the most ancient spiritual practices in the world. How would you pitch the top 3 benefits of a regular yoga practice to prospective clients at our studio?”
🥴 Most of the above stem is irrelevant to the question and leads students in the wrong direction for no benefit.
✂️ In this case, I’d simply cut the first 2 sentences and keep the question. Problem solved!
4️⃣ The stem should be a question or a partial sentence. Generally, you want to avoid ‘Fill in the Blanks’ for MCs, even though they are quite common.
⚠️ Caveat: once we have a template where students have to type the response, fill in the blanks can be used more often because the act of retrieving the answer from memory and typing it will strengthen the neural pathways involved, leading to better learning outcomes. But that is currently not possible.
📋 Here’s why we generally want to avoid ‘Fill in the blanks’
❓ A question stem is preferable because it allows the student to focus on answering the question rather than holding a partial sentence in working memory and sequentially completing it with each alternative.
🧠 The cognitive load is needlessly increased when the stem is constructed with an initial or interior blank, so this construction should mostly be avoided.
❌ Fill in the blank: “In addition to the nucleus ___ are organelles that contain DNA
✅ Better: “In addition to the nucleus, which organelles contain DNA?”
5️⃣ All alternatives should be plausible
💠 Incorrect alternatives function serve as distractors which should be selected by students who did not achieve the learning outcome and which are ignored by students who did achieve the learning outcome.
💠 Alternatives that are implausible don’t serve as functional distractors and thus should not be used.
🚀 To turn an okay Multiple Choice-based Quiz into a phenomenal one, look to improve the quality of the distractors. The other place to look is the question formulation & selection, to which tip 1 & 3 refer.
❗ Common student errors provide the best source of distractors