Writing effective quiz, test, or exam questions
4 October 2023
Constructing good quiz, test, or exam questions requires time and creative thought. Here are some tips to help you write more effective questions.
Know your purpose. Identify the learning outcomes to be assessed and consider how you will assess higher levels of thinking.
Maintain consistency in style and language. Use question types that are appropriate for the learning outcomes and give opportunities for students to show a range of learning by using a diversity of question types.
Group question types together in a section. Indicate the mark allocation for each section, and each question and part of question. Mix it up – shuffle your sections and randomise your questions.
Choosing the right question type
What is the learning outcome you are trying to assess? Use selected response questions (e.g. Multiple-choice, True-False, Drag and drop, Matching), if you are assessing recall of concepts and information, terms and definitions, problem solving, or vocabulary. Use constructed response questions (e.g. Short answer, Essay, Case study) if you are assessing the ability to analyse, synthesise or evaluate information, or problem solve.
Writing your questions
Be specific - use consistent language and use instruction words correctly. Word questions positively and aim to write concise and precise questions.
Writing effective multiple-choice questions
Consider the stem, correct answer, and distractors. Avoid using “all of the above” or “none of the above”. The answer and distractors should not overlap and it is important to remove any element of subjectivity. Limit each question to one subject/topic. Be careful not to give away the answer with the question wording or structure. Provide the same feedback for correct and incorrect responses and explain why an answer is correct and/or incorrect. Use the feedback to direct students to relevant learning outcomes and course resources for further guidance.
Writing effective true-false questions
Statements must be 100% true or 100% false. Be mindful of your wording and avoid using words that signal the correct response. Questions using modal verbs (e.g. can, may, could, should, would) are usually true, while questions using absolute words (e.g. never, always, all, must) are usually false. Be careful of double negatives. Provide the same feedback for correct and incorrect responses and explain why an answer is correct and/or incorrect. Use the feedback to direct students to relevant learning outcomes and course resources for further guidance.
Writing constructed response questions
Think about how you format your questions and be consistent throughout your assessment. Are you providing students with a question (e.g. What … ?) or an instruction statement (e.g. Describe …)? Make sure you are clearly stating the question or problem that students need to address. Consider using short scenarios leading up to questions. Clarify any expectations you have such as word limit, structure, or number of points to make.
Write your solutions and marking guide
Write your solutions and marking guide as you develop your questions. Answers need to be unambiguous and writing your solutions and marking guide will help you to review whether you have worded your question appropriately and included all necessary information. Your solutions and marking guide will also help you identify the time required for each question, the mark allocation, and from this how many of each question type to include in the assessment.
Help prepare students
Provide students with examples of what makes a good response or a poor response for constructed response questions. Provide clear rules and instructions and outline the format including time limits, open/closed book, online/paper, question types, response length, etc. State the coverage clearly including the learning outcomes, modules, and topics covered and/or not covered.
Assessing the effectiveness of your quiz, test, or exam
Prior to finalising the assessment, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this assess what I thought I was assessing?
- Have I covered the content that I am assessing?
- Am I assessing what I emphasised in the content?
- Is the material I am assessing really what I wanted students to learn?
- Have I considered and incorporated the moderator’s comments?
During marking, keep track of which questions were understood or misunderstood. Look at the result statistics and if possible, gather feedback from your students. Reflect and note modifications for the future.