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Quizzes and Exams

Writing Effective Quiz Questions

Writing effective test questions can be a challenging task, especially when a test is being used to measure specific Learning Outcomes. Students are evaluated for how well they are meeting learning outcomes, but you can influence their success by preparing a well-structured exam with well-written test questions.

Guidelines for Preparing a Well-structured Quiz or Exam

  1. Be clear about what you are asking students to do. An introductory paragraph or statement, outlining the sections of the exam, stating the time allowed and point value for the exam, will make things clear for the students. The stem of the question(s) should also clearly indicate what the student is to do (e.g., Identify the best answer…, Find the most recent accomplishment…, Identify the answer with the best order of events…, Calculate the following…, etc.).

  2. Consider question type and level of thinking for students (e.g., remembering, applying, evaluating). Vary your questions to provide students with a variety of ways of thinking and of demonstrating their learning.

  3. Put page numbers (page x of y) on all pages and label sub-sections.

  4. For Multiple Choice or True/False questions, use capital letters (A. B. C. D.) rather than lower case letters (e.g., “a” gets confused with “d” and “c” with “a” for those with vision problems, poor photocopying, dyslexia, etc.)

  5. Layout your test with adequate white space and proper font size.

Tips for Writing Effective Test Questions

An important consideration in constructing multiple choice items is to make them measure learning rather than test-taking skills. The suggestions here are designed to help you with writing effective multiple choice questions.

1.     Use the words “best answer” rather than “most correct answer” as there may be exceptions and this phrasing will avoid any arguments.

2. For Multiple Choice questions, research has shown that four or five suggested choices are enough alternatives. 

3. Avoid grammatical clues to the answer (e.g. an, a – which indicate a vowel/non-vowel word).

4. If “no” or “not” is used, underline it. Try to avoid using negative constructions in the stem.

When students do not properly study for tests, they often resort to some Test-Taking Myths. They may score accurately but it does not mean they know the material. Outsmart your test-savvy students with well-constructed multiple-choice questions.

Test-Taking Myths

Myth-Busting Practices


If in doubt, pick “C”

Vary the correct responses equally throughout all multiple-choice questions (i.e. make sure you have the same amount of correct “c” responses as all the other letter choices)


Choose “All of the Above”

Use “All of the Above” only when it is absolutely necessary and vary it being the correct response


Choose “None of the Above”

Use “None of the Above” only when it is absolutely necessary and vary it being the correct response

Pick the longest answer

Try making all of your choices relatively equal in length, or avoid making the correct response either the longest or the shortest in length

Do not pick a choice that has the words “always” or “never” in them

Since “always” and “never” indicate that the answer is likely incorrect, avoid using these words

Look for a choice that has vague words in it like “maybe”, “usually”, “typically” or “sometimes”

Since these words indicate that the answer is likely correct, avoid using these words or use similar words in all the choices

If you see words that you learned in class that are more technical in nature, choose that answer.


Use a variety of words in all choices

Never pick an answer that is too easy or simple – they will never give an answer away.


Sometimes make the simplest answer the correct one

If in doubt, conduct a process of elimination. Remove any answers that are just too far-fetched to be true. You should have two choices to guess.

The purpose of the distracters (i.e. incorrect or inferior alternatives) is to appear as plausible solutions for those students who did not study. Do not use absurd or fun distracters as they would just give away the answer or make it far easier to guess from fewer plausible choices. Try to make all the distracters as closely related as possible


Using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

When asking questions either in oral or written form, it is wise to vary your questions across all 6 categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Benjamin Bloom was a university professor and in 1956 he devised three domains of learning (cognitive, affective and psychomotor). Bloom’s cognitive domain seems to be referenced more as it outlines 6 levels of thinking skills. Still in use today, it has undergone one significant revision. In 2001, Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom) replaced the nouns with verbs (Knowledge is now Remembering) and switched the last two categories around.

Approximate Length of Time for Test Item Answering

This will help you in determining the length of a test and/or how long you will give students to complete the test.

Item Type

Average Time

True or False

30 seconds/question

Multiple Choice

1 minute/question

Multiple Choice – Higher level

1.5 minutes/question

Short Answer

2 minutes/question


30 seconds/response

Short Essay (Written Answer)

10 – 15 minutes/question

Extended Essay

30 min/question