Multiple-choice questions that test recall or have a single correct answer make the possibility of academic dishonesty far easier in a non-invigilated environment. We recommended that you find alternative ways to test knowledge by designing questions with the intent to test students’ reasoning behind their choice. This also drives students to engage more deeply with their learning. Keep in mind that students will need more time to complete such assessment tasks where the difficulty level is higher.
See examples on ‘redesign your assessment questions as open book format’.
A tried-and-tested approach
Step 1: Topic
Identify a topic
Start with one that aligns to a learning outcome. For example, LO18.4 Explain the effects different cultivation methods have on the number and weight of tomatoes grown.
Step 2: True statements
Identify some true statements related to the topic
- The growing season for tomatoes is proportional to the length of time daytime temperatures remain above 20°C.
- The weight of the tomatoes is proportional to the amount of water provided.
- The yield will increase with longer exposure to sunlight.
Step 3: True options
From these statements, create true options.
For example, for the first statement above, a true option could be that “Increasing the duration of the growing season would increase the number of tomatoes produced”.
Step 4: False options
From these statements, create false options
For example, for the first statement above, a false option could be that “Increasing the duration of the growing season would decrease the number of tomatoes produced”.
Step 5: Write a stem
Write a stem based on the topic
From the learning outcome, the topic we are trying to test here relates to improving crop yields and the cultivation methods that may help. A possible stem might be: “The health and yield of a tomato plant is determined by factors affecting the germination and growth of seedlings and the length of the growing season. Which of the following statements regarding cultivation methods is correct?”
Step 6: Assemble
Assemble the different combinations
If you wrote, for example, three statements in step 2, and then followed this up with one true and one false option for each of the three statements, you should now have six options to use. For a multiple-choice question with four options, you can create a number of varieties just by swapping options in and out.
Adapted from The University of Sydney, How2MCQ – Tips for efficiently writing meaningful automarkable questions by Danny Liu.
- Align the question with learning outcomes.
- Create pools of questions, add them to appropriate Canvas question banks, and use these to populate quizzes.*
- Leverage common misconceptions to help gauge understanding and guide learning.
- Use the Canvas Rich Content Editor to add rich media like images, videos, links, etc. for more authentic scenarios in questions and options.
- Avoid double negatives.
- Keep the language simple to ensure you are testing for conceptual understanding, not English comprehension.
- Avoid ‘all of the above’ and ‘none of the above’ (especially if you randomise the order of possible answers).
- Remove all clues that will help students answer the MCQ question correctly.
For example, avoid creating a correct answer with long descriptions. If one option is much longer than the others, students may try to guess the answer by process of elimination. Sometimes more words are needed to give complete information, so selecting the longest option may result in choosing the correct answer as it contains broader ideas and range of possibilities.
* Selecting random questions from question banks can also reduce cheating as students have less opportunity to share the answers. In order to provide equity, ensure the questions are of an equivalent difficulty, e.g. mathematical equations with different variables/values.