8 Writing Quiz and Exam Questions

Writing Multiple Choice/Answers Questions: 

Multiple-choice tests have 2 advantages in that they measure a variety of learning levels (Bloom’s Taxonomy) and are easy to grade. The disadvantages are that they test recognition and not recall, which allows for guessing, and they are not always easy to construct.

Multiple-choice and multiple answer questions consist of a “stem,” “response items,” and “distractors.” The stem is a question or an incomplete sentence. The response items are the correct/possible answers, and the distractors are the incorrect answers. The questions should be as clear and straightforward as possible and steer away from questions that are meant to trick students or are too complex.

Creating effective stems, response items, and distractors

Stems Response Items Distractors
  • Construct the stem, so it conveys a complete thought.
  • Is concise with simple and clear wording
  • Phrase questions using positive phrasing instead of negative phrasing
  • Avoid using grammatical clues to include singular or plural words, and a or an.
  • Aim for one BEST answer(unless Multiple answers)
  • Avoid absolutes (always/never)
  • Avoid overusing all or none of the above
  • Avoid using grammatical clues to include singular or plural words, and a or an.
  • Lengths of responses are roughly equal
  • List response in a logical order
  • Avoid “A” & “B” and “B” & “A” and use multiple answers instead.
  • Avoid all or none of the above responses
  • Make sure all of  the responses are grammatically consistent with the stem
  • Avoid confusing vocabulary and idioms.
  • Eliminate repetitive or  irrelevant wording
  • Make every distractor plausible
  • Avoid trivial or nonsense distractors
  • Use common student errors
  • Use distractors that are content-related.



  • Remember to make the content you are testing on align with the course objectives.
  • Test on important and not trivial or unimportant facts.
  • Make sure students cant use information from one question to answer another question.
  • Write the test question out with the correct answer, replace the correct answer with the distractor, and read for consistency.

Writing True/False Questions:

True/False questions are presented as statements where the test taker judges the statement to be correct or incorrect.  With a 50/50 chance of getting the answer correct, only content that lends itself to either/ or should be used.

  • Be sure that the statement is entirely true or false.
  • Avoid using negatives, absolutes, or ambiguous or confusing language when writing questions.
  • Convey only one thought in each question and avoid the combination of multiple ideas in the same sentence.
  • Target misconceptions when writing questions.

Writing matching questions:

Matching questions require the learner to match the “stem” with the “response” and identify the relationship between them.  Matching is ideal for terms with definition, causes and effects, concepts with examples or pictures, events and dates, achievements and people, descriptions or applications and principles and functions, and parts.

Writing short answer questions: 

Short answer questions are also referred to as “fill in the blank” and “completion” questions. They require the learner to supply a single word or short phrase to complete the sentence.

  • Word the question so that only ONE answer is correct to keep the question objective.

Writing Essay Questions: 

A short essay question is limited to a few paragraphs or one page and is highly focused on a response to a question.  A long essay can be more than one page and gives the test taker a chance to express and defend a point of view. They are easy to construct and require learners to express themselves in writing.

  • Make the questions specific and focused on keeping students from straying off-topic.
  • Use grading rubrics to inform the students of the grading criteria.
  • After creating an essay question, write a model answer to help the grader focus on content.

How many questions: 

The number of questions depends on the difficulty and type of your questions as well as the time limit (if applicable).

For instance, you can allow 1-2 minutes per question for True/False and multiple choice or fill in the blanks. Short answer questions 2-3 minutes per question and numerical questions should be based on how long it would take a student (not you) to complete. Essay questions can range from 10-45 minutes depending on if it is a short essay or long and the amount of detail you are looking for.

  • Time yourself reading the questions and answers to get a minimum time then add the answer time to the minimin to get an idea of how long it will take.
  • Ask a TA/GA or colleague to take the test and time it and adjust the time if they are subject matter experts.
  • If you create a test for an in-class session that matches your online session, give the students the same time they would need to complete the test and the in-class students receive.
  • When in doubt add extra time.

References and Resources:

“Writing Multiple-Choice Questions That Demand Critical Thinking,” by Boston University Medical Campus
http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/teachingLibrary/Assessment/WritingMultiple.pdf (Links to an external site.)

Is This a Trick Question? A Short Guide to Writing Effective Test Questions, by Ben Clay, Kansas Curriculum Center
http://www.k-state.edu/ksde/alp/resources/Handout-Module6.pdf (Links to an external site.)

“Writing Good Multiple-Choice Test Questions,” by Cynthia J. Brame, Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/ (Links to an external site.)

“How to Write Better Tests: A Handbook for Improving Test Construction Skills,” by Cloud County Community College


Teaching Online: Course Design, Delivery, and Teaching Presence Copyright © by Analisa McMillan. All Rights Reserved.

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