Crafting Strong Multiple Choice Items

Crafting Strong Multiple Choice Items


What It Is

Multiple-choice questions are commonly used in tests and exams to evaluate learning.  A multiple-choice question is an assessment item consisting of a stem, which poses the question or problem, followed by a list of possible responses. One of the alternatives is the correct or the best answer, while the others are called distracters, the incorrect or less correct answers.


Why It Matters

Multiple-choice questions can be used in various phases of the learning process and across disciplines. Because multiple-choice questions are easier to grade, they provide instructors with prompt feedback on learning. Multiple choice questions can be used at all stages of assessment: before a class as a pre-assessment, during a class as a formative assessment, and after learning as a summative assessment. Additionally, well-written multiple-choice questions can evaluate various levels of cognitive learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as factual recall and higher-order thinking such as comprehension and application.    


Apply It 

1. Know the structure. 

  • – Answers should be mutually exclusive 
  • – Answers should be similar in length and style

2. Start with learning objectives

  • – Questions should measure intended learning outcomes
  • – Each question assesses a single objective 

3. Aim for high-order thinking. 

  • – Use specific examples when developing questions to encourage critical thinking and reasoning 
  • – Use questions that require learners to apply, analyze, or evaluate multiple threads of content knowledge

4. Pay attention to language. 

  • – Use simple and familiar language
  • – Avoid negative wording on questions
  • – Avoid lengthy questions filled with irrelevant information
  • – Make sure the questions and answers are grammatically correct





Brame, C. (2022). Writing higher order multiple choice questions. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Burton, S.J., Sudweeks, R.R., Merrill, P.F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice test items: Guidelines for University faculty. Brigham Young University Testing services and the Department of Instructional Sciences

University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. (n.d.) Developing Multiple Choice Questions.


Cite This Resource

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. (2023, February). Crafting strong multiple choice [Teaching resource].


Updated 2/2023.