How To Create Valuable Multiple-Choice Questions

knowing_online_assessmentMultiple-choice questions can be a useful teaching and assessment tool, whether aiding class discussions or testing content on an exam. Teachers have been using this method of assessment for decades, whether verbally, on paper, or more recently through technology such as the real-time assessment system, Socrative.

However, writing multiple-choice questions that test the anticipated content with a certain level of difficulty and understanding for the student is often more challenging than it may seem. It is important to understand the types of questions that exist, reliable rules for writing them, and how to use them to understand learning behavior.

Types of Questions

1. Recall information: Test understanding of factual knowledge, such as definition or association.

Example: What is a verb?

2. Understand concepts: Draw upon facts in context of what is being learned.

Example: Which of the words in the following sentence is a verb: Susan walked to the grocery store.

3. Apply knowledge: Give students a scenario, often linked to a real-world outcome.

Example: Sam is writing about his ski vacation with his family. This vacation happened one month ago. Which is a correct form of the word “to ski” for his paragraph?

4. Analyze Information: Students reflect on patterns and relationships within the content.

Example: Consider the verbs in following sentence: Mike ran to the store. 

In what form would you use the word “to call” in order to represent that Mike made a call before he went to the store.


Tried-and-True Rules

Questions should be: 

1. Complete: Do not use phrases, or incomplete sentences (except for fill in the blank)

2. Positive: Only use a negative phrase when it is essential to content.


Answers should be:

1. Unique: Do not repeat wording from the question. Avoid statements taken from homework, class work, or the textbook.

2. Clear and consistent: Use simple grammar, short sentences, and explicit content.

3. Plausible and thought provoking: Use reasonable choices that distract from the correct answer, without tricking them


Questions about Behavior

1. Confidence levels: Ask a student how confident they were in their answer. Both teachers and students learn what the student is having trouble with or completely understands, which can serve as a guide for future questions.

2. Time: Ask how long a certain question, activity, or homework problem took each student to better understand trouble areas.

3. Difficulty/Understanding: Ask students which section/concept they understand the least or most.

*It is important to remember that multiple-choice questions should not serve as a primary teaching tool, but rather as a supplement, which when using a smart system such as Socrative, automatically foster participation and engagement. Share some of your best multiple-choice questions with us!

Follow up to “In Defense of Multiple-Choice” written by Natalie Bartlett of Socrative.


Bothell, T. (2001). 14 Rules for writing multiple choice questions. Brigham Young University. Retrieved August 15th, 2013 from

Burton, S. J., Sudweeks, R. R., Merrill, P. F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice test items: Guidelines for university faculty. Retrieved July 28, 2006 from:

(2013). Writing good multiple choice test questions. Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching. Retrieved August 15th, 2013 from

(2013). Writing multiple choice questions. VCU Center for Teaching Excellence. Retrieved August 15th from