Multiple-Choice Test Items
The multiple-choice item consists of two parts: (a) the stem, which identifies the question or problem and (b) the response alternatives. Students are asked to select the one alternative that best completes the statement or answers the question. For example,
Item Stem: Which of the following is a chemical change?
- Evaporation of alcohol
- Freezing of water
- Burning of oil
- Melting of wax
Advantages & limitations
Multiple-choice items have several advantages. They can provide:
- versatility in measuring all levels of cognitive ability.
- highly reliable test scores.
- scoring efficiency and accuracy.
- objective measurement of student achievement or ability.
- a wide sampling of content or objectives.
- a reduced guessing factor when compared to true-false items.
- different response alternatives which can provide diagnostic feedback.
Multiple-choice items also have several disadvantages. They:
- are difficult and time-consuming to construct.
- lead an instructor to favor simple recall of facts.
- place a high degree of dependence on the student's reading ability and the instructor's writing ability.
Suggestions for writing stems
- When possible, state the stem as a direct question rather than as an incomplete statement.
Undesirable: Alloys are ordinarily produced by ...
Desirable: How are alloys ordinarily produced?
- Present a definite, explicit and singular question or problem in the stem. Undesirable: Psychology ... Desirable: The science of mind and behavior is called...
- Eliminate excessive verbiage or irrelevant information from the stem. Undesirable: While ironing her formal, Jane burned her hand accidentally on the hot iron. This was due to a transfer of heat be ... Desirable: Which of the following ways of heat transfer explains why Jane's hand was burned after she touched a hot iron?
- Include in the stem any word(s) that might otherwise be repeated in each alternative. Undesirable: In national elections in the United States the President is officially Desirable: In national elections in the United States the President is officially chosen by
- Use negatively stated stems sparingly. When used, underline and/or capitalize the negative word.
Undesirable: Which of the following is not cited as an accomplishment of the Kennedy administration?
Desirable: Which of the following is NOT cited as an accomplishment of the Kennedy administration?
Suggestions for writing item alternatives
- Make all alternatives plausible and attractive to the less knowledgeable or skillful student.
What process is most nearly the opposite of photosynthesis?
- Make the alternatives grammatically parallel with each other, and consistent with the stem. Undesirable: What would do most to advance the application of atomic discoveries to medicine? Desirable: What would do most to advance the application of atomic discoveries to medicine?
- Make the alternatives mutually exclusive.
Undesirable: The daily minimum required amount of milk that a 10 year old child should drink is
Desirable: What is the daily minimum required amount of milk a 10 year old child should drink?
- When possible, present alternatives in some logical order (e.g., chronological, most to least, alphabetical). At 7 a.m. two trucks leave a diner and travel north. One truck averages 42 miles per hour and the other truck averages 38 miles per hour. At what time will they be 24 miles apart?
- 6 p.m.
- 9 p.m.
- 1 a.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 6 a.m.
- 1 a.m.
- 6 a.m.
- 9 a.m.
- 1 p.m.
- 6 p.m.
- Be sure there is only one correct or best response to the item. Undesirable: The two most desired characteristics in a classroom test are validity and Desirable:The two most desired characteristics in a classroom test are validity and
- Make alternatives approximately equal in length. Undesirable: The most general cause of low individual incomes in the United States is Desirable: What is the most general cause of low individual incomes in the United States?
- Avoid irrelevant clues such as grammatical structure, well known verbal associations or connections between stem and answer.
Undesirable (grammatical clue): A chain of islands is called an:
Undesirable (verbal association clue): The reliability of a test can be estimated by a coefficient of:
Undesirable (connection between stem and answer clue): The height to which a water dam is built depends on
- the length of the reservoir behind the dam.
- the volume of water behind the dam.
- the height of water behind the dam.
- the strength of the reinforcing wall.
- Use at least four alternatives for each item to lower the probability of getting the item correct by guessing.
- Randomly distribute the correct response among the alternative positions throughout the test having approximately the same proportion of alternatives a, b, c, d and e as the correct response.
- Use the alternatives "none of the above" and "all of the above" sparingly. When used, such alternatives should occasionally be used as the correct response.