Saturday, 31 March 2012

Writing good multiple choice questions

Multi-choice seems to have come back into fashion somewhat in the UK. I gather it has long been used extensively in the USA as a means of practising and assessing skills and knowledge. Writing good multi-choice tasks is an interesting challenge and I was happy to learn something about it a few years ago when I wrote some assessment tasks for Asset Languages in Cambridge.

Firstly, three options are, it seems, as statistically adequate as four, although you often see four choices given on exam papers.

Secondly, it is important that all options be "in play". That is, they must be reasonably tempting to the learner.

Thirdly, a good multi-choice question should have the aim of allowing about 70% or 80% of learners to get the answer right. A good balance of outcomes would be around 70% get the right option, with the other two options getting about 15% each. A question which attracts equal responses for each option is a poor one. Similarly, if one option gets no ticks, it is a poor question.

Fourthly, the layout of questions is important. Each option should ideally be about the same length. Each option should linguistically be distinct. i.e. you do not want two options beginning with one wording and the third with a different wording. In this respect I find the multi-choice questions on AQA GCSE French papers wanting a little.

And last, questions may take the form of a question with three or four different answers, or they may begin with a partial sentence completed in three or four different ways. The latter format is, I suspect, more common. Anyway, it's all good fun and setting multi-choice questions is a good mental exercise. I have little against the format and disagree with those who say it is a way of trying to catch out students and that it is somehow unfair. Well, yes, it is trying the catch out students and that's the point. The thing is to make sure the level of task is fair.

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