Designing Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

Designing MCQs starts with the following components:

Infographic showing the components for designing MCQs - Stem - question or response stimulus + The Key - correct answer + Plausible Distractors - incorrect answers = MCQ item
MCQ Components. Image: Stem (question or response stimulus) + The Key (correct answer) + Plausible Distractors (incorrect answers) = MCQ item

Good Practice Guidelines - Top 10 Tips

  1. Questions need to be aligned to subject learning outcomes and appropriate level/s of cognitive skill.
  1. Avoid open-ended or unfocused stems (e.g. “Oxygen can be used for….”).  Put the central idea of the question in the stem so the student can reasonably determine the correct answer before reading the possible choices. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘passing the cover test’.
  2. Negatively worded items should be used with caution (e.g. not; never).  If you do use negative terms, make sure they are highlighted in some way (e.g. bold, underline, CAPITALS).
  3. Note: if using underline in an online assessment format, the underline may be confused with a hyperlink so please use your discretion with this form of highlighting.
  1. Use 3-4 response options (i.e. 1 key and 2-3 plausible distractors).
  2. Avoid absolute options (e.g. ‘none of the above’; ‘all of the above’) or vague options (e.g. ‘frequently’; ‘usually’; ‘probably’; ‘rarely’, ‘except’).
  3. Avoid grammatical clueing or repeating part of the stem in the key or distractors.
  1. When designing a series of MCQs, each question should be independent from one another to avoid one question providing a cue for another question.
  2. The location of the key should be evenly distributed throughout the assessment to avoid placement bias.
  3. Both the key and the distractors should be similar in terms of grammatical form, style and length.
  1. Prepare model answers and explanations for each question (i.e. why selections are right or wrong) for student feedback and peer review quality processes.