Writing Multiple-Choice Questions

Multiple choice items are a common way to measure student understanding and recall. Wisely constructed and utilized, multiple choice questions will make stronger and more accurate assessments.

At the end of this activity, you will be able to construct multiple choice test items and identify when to use them in your assessments.

Let's begin by thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of using multiple-choice questions. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of using multiple choice questions will help you decide when to use them in your assessments.



Multiple choice items consist of a question or incomplete statement (called a stem) followed by 3 to 5 response options. The correct response is called the key while the incorrect response options are called distractors.

For example: This is the most common type of item used in assessments. It requires students to select one response from a short list of alternatives. (stem)

  1. True-false (distractor)
  2. Multiple choice (key)
  3. Short answer (distractor)
  4. Essay (distractor)

Following these tips will help you develop high quality multiple choice questions for your assessments.

Formatting Tips

Writing Tips


Examine the examples below and think about the tips you just learned. As you look at each one think about whether or not it 's a good example or does it need improvement?

This item should be revised. It should not have “none of the above” as a choice if you are asking for the “best” answer.

This item should be revised because the repetitive wording should be in the stem. So the stem should read "Clinical pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning based on:"

This example is well written and structured.

This example contains a grammatical cue and grammatical inconsistency. Additionally, all distractors are not equally plausible.

This is a good example.

Multiple choice questions are commonly used in assessments because of their objective nature and efficient administration. To make the most of these advantages, it's important to make sure your questions are well written.


Bosher, S. (2003). Linguistic bias in multiple-choice nursing exams. Nursing Education Perspectives, 24(1), 25-34.

Case, S. M. & Swanson, D. B. (2003). Constructing written test questions for the basic and clinical sciences, 3rd edition (revised). Philadelphia: National Board of Medical Examiners. http://www.nbme.org/about/itemwriting.asp

Clegg, V. L. & Cashin, W. E. Improving multiple-choice tests. Idea paper No. 16, Center for Faculty Evaluation & Development. Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University.

Cohen, A. S. & Wollack, J. A. Handbook on test development: Helpful tips for creating reliable and valid classroom tests. Testing & Evaluation Services, University of Wisconsin-Madison. http://wiscinfo.doit.wisc.edu/exams/instructional_support.htm

Jacobs, L. C. How to write better tests: A handbook for improving test construction skills. Evaluation Services and Testing, Indiana University-Bloomington. http://www.indiana.edu/~best/write_better_tests.shtml

Park University, Faculty Development web site, Writing Test Items. http://captain.park.edu/facultydevelopment/writing_test_items.htm


Research: Brenda Kupsch

Design: Eileen Horn

Development funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration (1D09HP03288-01-00).