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Home > Blog > Tips on Writing a Better Exam

Tips on Writing a Better Exam

Posted by David Brannan on May 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Multiple choice exams seem easier to students because of the option to guess at the correct answer. Indeed, students may become fairly good at taking assessments (beating the test), but if an exam is written well, it will still accurately measure student's knowledge.

Writing multiple choice exams is not easy, so Exam Professor has put together a list of suggestions to help you write a more accurate assessment.

Writing Questions

  • Write questions for the exam daily after class. This avoids cramming to get the exam written the night before the test.
  • Use only a single, clearly-defined problem and include the main idea in the question. Students must know what the problem is without having to read the candidate answers.
  • Be sure to address only one point per question.
  • Make your questions concise. Avoid unnecessary wording. Do not use negatives in the actual question.
  • Always use proper grammar.
  • Emphasize higher-level thinking through memory-plus application questions. These questions require students to first recall the facts, and then apply or transfer the application of those facts into a situation.
  • Experts encourage multiple-choice items be prepared as questions rather than incomplete statements.
  • Avoid negative questions, as students may be able to find an incorrect answer without knowing the correct answer.
  • Avoid extremes - never, always, only, or nonsense words and unreasonable statements.
  • If you are setting a time limit on an exam, be sure to give adequate time for all students to complete each question and to check answers. You might ask yourself if a timed assessment is necessary.

Writing Answers

  • Make your answers concise. Avoid unnecessary wording.
  • Choose only four total responses - the correct one and three distractors. More than four seems to confuse the students while less than four makes it easy to guess.
  • Only list plausible distractors, even if the number of options per question changes.
  • Avoid using such terms as "all of the above” as students will only need to recognize two correct answers to get it right.
  • Avoid using such terms as "none of the above” as you will never know if your students knew the answer.
  • It is common for teachers to be more descriptive when typing a correct answer to a question. Make sure the longest answer is right about a fourth of the time (if there are four answer candidates).
  • Balance the placement of the correct answer (if there are four alternatives for each question, choose "d" about a fourth of the time).
  • Avoid clues to the correct answer. Do not answer one question in the exam by giving the answer in a different question.
  • Use only one correct option (or be sure the best option is clearly the best option).

Lastly, confer with one of your colleagues after writing your multiple choice exam and ask this person to critique the exam for you. To ensure the usefulness of your assessments, periodically evaluate question statistics, review graded exams, and ask yourself whether your assessments are measuring your student's learning.



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