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Tips on How to Design Multiple-Choice Questions Properly

April 18, 2020

Tips For Creating Multiple-Choice Questions Properly

In this article, we are going to discuss the topic of creating multiple-choice questions in general terms. So, a multiple-choice question includes two parts: a stem that defines a question or problem plus a range of alternatives (possible answers). These alternatives contain a key, which is the best answer to a specific question as well as a series of distractors that are wrong answers to a particular question. The distractors are mostly quite plausible. The students should identify the alternative that they think best answers/completes the stem.

Multiple-choice questions have got a lot of advantages to be used for assessment. They are easy to mark; such tests can be assessed with the help of a computer. All these and many other positive points make multiple-choice questions an appropriate assessment option for big classes/groups. Moreover, well-created questions may be applied when testing for a broad spectrum of content and goals and make an available objective evaluation of students` knowledge.

Generally, educators do not find the process of designing multiple-choice questions too complex. However, it might cause some confusion or insufficient understanding so that it is necessary to research this aspect in detail and start creating the tasks. We hope that our general strategies and recommendations may come in handy while studying the topic of creating multiple-choice questions. Of course, the tests should be accurate; the questions have to be interpreted as intended as well as the answer options ought to be clear and without hints.

Please, note that this article is only a general overview, and you should study this topic further to consult with various sources of information. You may ask an experienced teacher to help you, too. Every test can have some specific requirements so that the structure and the strategies for writing may vary.

The Elements of Multiple-Choice Questions

Well, depending on the subject, the students` academic level and many other factors, there may be several points that may be modified or combined. The length and the form of the question can be different, too.

For instance, the multiple-choice question may look like a problem (situation) at first, and then comes the question to respond or the sentence that should be completed. After this, we can observe the answer options. We can also see the sentence where it is required to complete the definition (we need to decide which option is a correct definition for some description, etc.) or to decrypt the acronym (we have several answers, and we identify, which one is the most suitable) and many other kinds of stems. The number of alternative options might differ, too.

There can be requirements that should be followed to design relevant multiple-choice questions. So, a teacher should specify all the requirements and recommendations thoroughly.

Here below, you may find the possible examples of multiple-choice questions. Please, note that all the examples are provided only for the general overview, as they are not fully investigated and do not contain particular requirements.

Let us look at the following example.

  1. Which of these words is an adverb? It is______
  • Slower
  • Sly
  • Quickly
  • Quiet

Well, keep in mind that the format of the multiple questions may also vary so that you should clarify this information.

In this example, we can see the next multiple-choice terminology, such as lead-in question (Which…?), the question stem (“adverb”), the options (alternatives, choices)- (A, B, C, D), three distractors (A, B, D) and one correct answer (C).

As for the alternation of the sequence of the right answers (for example, the correct answers to multiple questions are- 1-A, 2-C, 3-A, 4- D, etc.), there can be some recommendations and strategies. So, check all the requirements and advice.

The suggestions for creating this test are mostly connected with the next sections:

  • general strategies,
  • creating stems,
  • creating alternatives

Let us present one more example:

  1. What kind of animal is a feline?
  • Bear
  • Cat
  • Horse

Basic Tips for Designing Multiple-Choice Questions

Here below, we are going to present some basic tips for creating nice multiple-choice tests. Please, pay attention that this is not an exhaustive list. The following points cover only the basic aspects. There are various types of multiple questions to keep in mind, so you should get acquainted with all the necessary information on this topic.

General Recommendations

Write the questions during the term

The process of designing multiple-choice questions may be quite time-consuming and challenging, sometimes, so it is better to start doing this in advance and gradually.

Give students the instructions to choose the “best answer” rather than the “correct answer.” 

In this way, you can admit the fact that the distractors might have an element of truth to them as well as prevent the arguments from those students who assert that their answer is also correct.

Usage of familiar language 

The question should contain the same terminology which was used and discussed in the course. So, you should not use any unfamiliar or foreign language terms or phrases, unless the assessment knowledge of such language is one of the objectives of the question. Students can dismiss the distractors with unknown terms as incorrect.

You should not give verbal association clues from the stem in the key 

If the key has got the words that are similar to the words that are found in the stem, the students can select it as the right answer.

No trick questions 

The questions ought to be created so that the students, who have learned and know the material, can determine the correct answer. In case when the questions are written to mislead the students and direct them to an incorrect answer through misleading phrases or stressing an otherwise insignificant detail of the solution, we can talk about the violation of this principle.

Avoiding negative wording

Even the students, who are well aware of the material, can fail to notice the negative wording as well as it can confuse them. The students can make mistakes for this reason. You should usually avoid using negatives in the options or the stem. If it is really necessary to use negatives, you should emphasize the keywords by the use of upper case, bolding, underlining them, etc. For example, NOT, NOT, etc. 

Expressing the full problem in the stem 

The objective of the question should be clear and precise. The students ought to be able to answer the question without looking at the options.

Place all the relevant material in the stem 

The info that can be added to the stem should be written in the stem. Avoid repeating in each of the options the data which can be added in the stem. Thus, the options may become easier to understand as well as to read; the students can answer the questions quickly then.

Do not use excessive wording and inappropriate information in the stem 

Irrelevant info in the stem may confuse the students as well as it can lead to a waste of time.

Limitation of the number of alternatives, keeping the consistent number of options 

It is recommended to use three-five options per question. The research has shown that three-choice items are approximately as efficient as four- / five-choices questions, generally, as it is quite a complex task to create plausible distractors.

Be sure that there is only one best answer 

The distractors ought to be incorrect answers to the question in the stem. Do not write two or more options that are correct, and one is “more correct” than the others.

The distractors should be plausible and appealing 

While testing for recognition of key ideas and terms, the distractors should be similar in type of language as well as length as the right answer. If conceptual understanding is being tested, mainly, the distractors ought to represent common mistakes that are made by students.

The choices should be grammatically coordinated with the stem 

The choices should be placed in some meaningful order 

Try to place the options in chronological, numeral, or conceptual order- thus, the question will be better structured and easy to read.

Distribute the correct response randomly and mix up the order of the correct answers 

The number of right answers (a`s, b`s, c`s, d`s- for example if there are four options per question) should be approximately the same.

Do not use the options “All of the options are correct, EXCEPT..”, “All of the above” and “None of the above” and other vague words as well as phrases 

These phrases may mislead the students and prevent them from showing the real knowledge.

Do not use words such as Always, Never, All, None, etc. 

Do not use overlapping options 

The Choices should be mutually exclusive.

Try to avoid the questions of the form like “Which of the following statements is correct?”

It is not a clear question, so the options can be quite heterogeneous. It is better to present such questions in the form of True/ False ones.

You may test not only recall of knowledge but also critical thinking as well as comprehension. 

You may also design multiple-choice questions in the form of asking the students to interpret some facts, to explain cause and effect, to predict the results, to assess situations, to make the inference, etc.

The structure of the sentence should be simple and the wording ought to be precise

Try to be as accurate as possible in the word choice, as some words may have a lot of meanings, according to the context, colloquial usage, etc.

Most of the words should be placed in the question stem

If a question stem is used, rather than an entire question, be sure that most of the words are in the stem. Thus, the choices can be short, less confusing; therefore, much more legible.

Try to keep the answer options roughly the same length

Do not use double negatives

Avoid such combinations of words in the same questions as not, no, nor, the –un prefix, and so on. Change them into a positive form.

Remember to create all the necessary elements of multiple-choice questions

There are mostly three key components: the stem, the lead-in question, and the list of the answer options.

The stem should contain all the relevant data

Do not provide any ambiguous or vague information

If it is possible, you may use the vignettes as a way to structure a question 

It is recommended to use lead-in questions of the stem

It is really important to pose a clear question that can be answered by the test-takers.

There should be only one correct option

Moreover, fewer good distractors are supposed to be better than lots of inappropriate ones. Only one option should be correct.

Make the answer options strategic

The options should come from a single category.

Avoid common errors (some of them are mentioned above)

Carefully check and proofread the work

So, is the question answerable? If necessary, revise, edit, and rewrite the multiple-choice questions several times.

Ask a colleague to review the questions

Peer review can be a good way to evaluate the work with a fresh outlook.


So, this topic is really interesting and thought-provoking. You should study it further in detail, check all the requirements as well as recommendations and follow them. This list of tips is not an exhaustive one, so there can be some other additional creative ideas and worthwhile tips.

This article is only for a general overview. Start practicing, as practice makes perfect. We hope that our brief guideline may come in handy when creating excellent multiple-choice questions. Good luck to you!

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