Guidance on using Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) assessment

Decisions about the use of MCQs are always a matter of judgment as to whether their properties suit the assessment circumstances and purposes.

Two main types of question are ‘True/False’ and ‘one best answer’ (the latter usually called MCQ in the UK). The former type has many formats including single statements that have to be marked T or F and a multiple or cluster type with a stem and several possible responses, each of which has to be marked T/F.

The MCQ type consists of stem and options, usually five, of which, usually, one is the correct answer and the other distracters. Answers can be in words, numbers, diagrams, solutions etc., as appropriate to discipline.

Pointers about using MCQs:

  1. The question bank (set) needs good psychometric properties (especially reliability) Make sure the content of the question is important and relevant
  2. Use stems and options that are unambiguous and each contain only one idea Be very careful that any T/F items are unequivocally either true or false.
  3. Avoid negative statements – Construct plausible distracters e.g. likely errors and using an appropriate part of speech so that the correct answer does not draw attention to itself
  4. Do not use ‘all of the above’ or ‘none of the above’ as possible answers. From question to question, distribute the correct answer among the lettered responses.
  5. Negative marking, i.e. trying to penalise guessing, is a contentious matter with divided evidence; on balance (and fashion) the evidence appears to be against using negative marking
  6. Consider asking students to indicate their level of confidence in each answer. This gives them very useful formative information
  7. Consider subject matter, level of course and intended student outcomes in the decision about whether or not MCQs are a suitable form of assessment
  8. Remind students to attempt to answer every question and to pace their work so that they reach the end of the test paper.
  9. Consider carefully what you judge a suitable pass mark to be. This may be quite different from how it is finally represented in terms of the marking scheme bands. If you are testing key, basic knowledge 40% may be too low a mark.

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