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Tool: Writing good multiple-choice items

It is especially important that multiple-choice items be written clearly and concisely. They need to build the students' confidence so they won't feel that they are completing a "Multiple-guess" section of the test.

  1. Have you stated the problem in the stem in order to make the responses as short as possible?
  2. When possible, have you written the stem as a question rather than a fill-in-the-blank statement?
  3. Are your responses grammatically parallel?
  4. Are your foils (or distracters) plausible and reflective of the misconceptions that uninformed students might have?
  5. If possible, was each question written positively, thereby avoiding the use of terms like "not" and "never"?

Using the guidelines above, can you figure out a way to salvage each of these items by rewriting it? Or can you use these guidelines to write or evaluate an assessment for your own class?

  1. Communists area
    a. people who believe that religious leaders should govern.
    b. people who believe that the wealthy should govern.
    c. people who believe that the workers should govern.

  2. The people of China
    a. eat rice at least once a day.
    b. feel somewhat crowded.
    c. live near the people of South Korea.
    d. all of the above
    e. none of the above
    f. b and c are true and a is sometimes true.
    g. b and c are true and a is never true.

  3. If you, a studious young geographer, were to compare northern China to southern China, you would always find that
    a. the latter is dryer than the former.
    b. the latter is wetter than the former.
    c. the ladder has more rungs than the former (ha! ha!).
    d. the latter has more rice-eaters than the former has wheat-eaters.

  4. Over 120 million people live in Japan. This means that
    a. Japan is more crowded than China.
    b. less crowded than China.
    c. more or less equal to the crowding in China