Rethinking Multiple Choice Tests for Assessing Student Learning

If you think multiple choice tests are only good to assess how well students memorized facts, it may be time to rethink your testing strategy. Although they are not appropriate for every situation, when properly developed, multiple choice tests can used to assess higher levels of thinking, including application and analysis.

In the recent seminar, Developing Tools and Strategies to Assess Student Learning, Linda Suskie, vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, dispelled some of the myths about multiple choice tests and provided strategies for mitigating the issues that have caused this type of testing to fall out of favor with some educators.

“The two precepts for writing good multiple choice items is to remove all barriers that will keep a knowledgeable student from getting the item right, and remove all clues that will help a less-than-knowledgeable student get the item right,” says Suskie.

10 Tips for Creating Good Multiple Choice Questions
1. Don’t make vocabulary unnecessarily difficult.
2. Make sure the “stem” (question) asks a complete question.
3. Don’t ask questions about trivia.
4. Avoid negative items.
5. Avoid grammatical clues to the right answer.
6. Avoid “none of the above” and “all of the above.”
7. Make all options roughly the same length.
8. Use common misconceptions or stereotypes as incorrect options.
9. Repeat keywords between the stem and the incorrect options.
10. Use interpretative exercises to get away from rote learning.
One of the advantages of multiple choice tests is that they provide a fast and easy way to not only measure student learning, but to identify problem areas as well. Once the test is graded, review the results and throw out any items that 50 percent or more of your students got wrong, says Suskie. It is likely there was something wrong with the question, or the way you taught the concept.