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Multiple Choice Item Construction

D. Michele Jacobsen Assistant Professor dmjacobs@acs.ucalgary.ca

Test Development Process

1. Statement of Goals 2. Content Outline 3. Table of Specifications 4. Item Selection 5. Item Construction 6. Composition of Instructions 7. Development of Answer Sheets 8. Construction of Answer Keys 9. Test Administration 10. Test Revision

Todays Focus
3. Table of Specifications 4. Item Selection 5. Item Construction

Two Important Characteristics of Tests

free from extraneous sources of error

how well a test measures what it is supposed to measure

Formative vs. Summative Tests

monitor progress toward goals within a course of study

assess overall achievement of course goals

A. Table of Specifications
Blue print for test Purpose
ensure proper emphasis given to all elements of a course of study content validity

Guide for writing items

Table of Specifications (2)

Start with Instructional Objectives
Biology 30: Circulation Unit Test
1. 2. 3. Identifies parts of circulation system. Explains function of parts in relation to whole system. Distinguishes between circulation system and other bodily systems.

Biology 30: Circulation

Levels Content Parts Function Relation to other systems Of Understanding Knowledge Comprehension Application

Need to Consider and Decide:

Length of Test Weight to be given to each objective Weight to be given to each level of taxonomy Estimate number of items in each cell

Biology 30: Circulation

Levels Content Parts Functio n Relation to other systems Knowledge 10 5 0 15 Of Understanding

Comprehension Application 5 5 5 15 0 5 10 15 15 15 15 45


Item Selection
Objectively Scored (Selection)
true/false completion matching multiple choice

Types of Items

Subjectively Scored (Supply)

interpretive exercises essay


Item Construction

Selected Response Test Items Item construction skills for valid and reliable measures of student achievement. Guidelines which apply to all types Specific Suggestions for writing each type Advantages and Disadvantages of Each

Guidelines for Writing Objective Items

1. Construct at appropriate level of difficulty for examinees Include Items at appropriate level of difficulty for purpose of test. Test significant elements of a course.




Write independent items.

II. Guidelines for Writing Objective Items

5. Construct questions free from extraneous reasons for problems. Communicate the question in clear, concise language.



In the correct alternatives, paraphrase statements from the text.

Exclude clues to correct answer.


III. Guidelines for Writing Objective Items

9. 10.

Provide one correct answer. Edit the Items.

Alternate Response Items

Involves the selection of one of two alternatives true / false yes / no right / wrong fact / opinion Mainly for Knowledge & Comprehension Can be written at higher levels

True / False
Word statements clearly. Vague or ambiguous wording will confuse students. Avoid overgeneralizing.
Poor: Better: Heavy smoking causes lung cancer. T F Heavy smoking often causes lung cancer. T F

Avoid Trick questions.

i.e., General Wolseley led Canadian troops to Manitoba in 1870. 3 tricks: Colonel, British, Not yet a province

Do not use trivial statements to pad out the number of questions and marks to arrive at a predetermined level.

True / False
Statements should be entirely true, or entirely false:
In King Lear, Regan ordered Gloucesters eyes to be plucked out and Gloucester died when he jumped off the cliff of Dover.

In King Lear, Regan ordered Gloucesters eyes to be plucked out. (T) In King Lear, Gloucester died when he jumped off the cliff at Dover. (F)

True / False
Avoid using universal descriptors such as never, none, always, and all.
Testwise students will recognize that there are few absolutes.

Avoid negative words, as they are often overlooked by students.

Poor: Better: It was not unheard of for Henry VIII to close monasteries in England. T F Henry VIII closed some monasteries in England. (T)

True / False
Do not include two ideas in one statement unless you are evaluating students understanding of cause and effect relationships.
Poor: Better: Porpoises are able to communicate because they are mammals. T F Porpoises are mammals. T F Porpoises are able to communicate. T F

Provide a T and F beside each statement and ask students to circle correct answer.
Avoids problem of students writing illegible letters.

True / False & Variations

Include more false than true statments in any given test and vary the number of false statements from test to test. tendency to mark more statements true than false. discrimination between those who know the content and those who do not is greater for false expressions.

Avoid using negative statements. Under the demands of the testing situation, students may fail to see the negative qualifier.

Matching Items
Consist of
a column of premises a column of responses directions for matching the two.

Similar to multiple choice, but easier and more efficient to construct

Can be written to assess Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis level behaviors

Guidelines for Writing Matching Items

Provide clear instructions on how to indicate the correct answers.

Indicate whether the same response can be used more than once.
Maintain grammatical consistency within and between columns. within a column: either sentence or point form between columns: one or the other Ensure that any matching question appears entirely on one page.

2. Guidelines for Writing Matching Items

Provide an unequal number of premises and responses
reduces guessing and elimination increases measure of comprehension

Avoid designing questions which require students to draw lines between premise and response.
confusing for student and marker provide space for letter or number answers

3. Guidelines for Writing Matching Items

Make sure lists are homogeneous.
i.e., do not include items testing names, dates, and events. Instead, make every response plausible

Make the wording of the premises longer than the wording of the responses. Identify the items in one list with numbers and those in the second list with letters.

Directions: 1. On the line to the right of each phrase in Column I, write the letter for the word in Column II that best matches the phrase. 2. Each word in Column II may be used once, more than once, or not at all.

Column I
1. Name of the answer in addition problems. 2. Name of the answer in subtraction problems. 3. Name of the answer in multiplication problems. 4. Name of the answer in division problems.

Column II
A. Difference B. Dividend C. Multiplicand D. Product E. Quotient F. Subtrahend G. Sum

Short Answer Test Items

Typically, the student is asked to reply with a word, phrase, name, or sentence, rather than a more extended response.
Direct Questions / Short Answer Who is the current Prime Minister of Canada? Incomplete Sentences / Fill In the Blanks The current Prime Minister of Canada is _____?

Items are fairly easy to construct and mark

Assess mainly knowledge, comprehension, and some application.

Guidelines for Writing Short Answer Items

Questions must be carefully worded so that all students understand the specific nature of the question asked and the answer required.
Poor: Better: Wellington defeated Napoleon in _____ ? In what battle fought in 1815 did Wellington defeat Napoleon? OR In what year did Wellington defeat Napoleon at Waterloo?

II. Guidelines for Writing Short Answer Items

Word completion or fillin questions so that missing information is at, or near the end of, the sentence. Makes reading and responding easier. Poor: In the year ______ , Canada turned 100 years old. Better: Canada turned 100 years old in the year _____ . Instructions and teachers expectations about filling in blanks should be made clear. Indicate whether each blank of equal length represents one word or several words, whether long blanks require sentences or phrases, and whether synonymous terms are accepted.

III. Guidelines for Writing Short Answer Items

When an answer is to be expressed in numerical units, the unit should be stated. Poor: If a room measures 7 metres by 4 metres, the perimeter is _____ . Better: If a room measures 7 metres by 4 metres, the perimeter is _____ metres (or m). Do not use too many blanks in completion items. The emphasis should be on knowledge and comprehension, not mind reading! Consider: In the year _____ , Prime Minister _________ signed the __________ , which led to a ___________ which was __________ .

Multiple Choice Items Interpretive Exercise

Guidelines for Writing Advantages & Disadvantages

Terminology: Multiple Choice

1. The capital city of Canada is a. Vancouver b. Montreal 3 4 c. Toronto *d. Ottawa 2

1. Stem: presents the problem 2. Keyed Response: correct or best answer 3. Distracters: appear to be reasonable answers to the examinee who does not know the content 4. Options: include the distracters and the keyed response.

Desirable quality in multiple choice items

Undesirable Should be avoided Inside the item

Outside the item Allows discrimination between those who know material and those who do not.

poor wording
more than one answer Even those who know content have difficulty choosing correct answer

Types of Multiple Choice Items

Correct Answer*

Only one correct response

Best Answer requires examinee to select alternative closest to being correct fine distinctions Multiple Answer More than one correct or best answer

Interpretive Exercise
Usually begins with verbal, tabular or graphic information which is the basis for 1 or more multiple choice questions.
map, passage from a story, a poem, a cartoon

Can challenge students at various levels of understanding

application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation

Exercise contains all information needed to answer questions Readily adaptive to the more important outcomes of disciplines.

Interpretive Exercises (cont)

Examples If student answers incorrectly it is because they have not mastered the thinking or reasoning required by the question, NOT because they failed to memorize background information. Math questions: give students the formulas, test ability to apply concepts, rather than ability to memorize formulas.

Guidelines for Writing: Multiple Choice Items

State stem in the form of a question.
Weak Canada is a) a country b) where you live c) between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans d) all of the above Better Between which two oceans is Canada located? a) Atlantic and Indian b) Atlantic and Pacific c) Pacific and Indian

Guidelines for Writing: Stems

Place most of the subject matter in the Stem
ensures full statement of problem

Eliminate extraneous material from the Stem

goal is to measure student achievement, not to present new material maximize use of time for demonstrating understanding, not reading ability

Avoid Negatively phrased Stems

students may miss the qualifier use only when learning outcome requires this type of differentiation

I. Guidelines for Writing: MC

Ensure similarity among alternatives with regard to:
grammatical structure
length mode of expression

Grammatical errors provide unintentional clues to the answer

When in doubt, students will select the longest alternative as the correct answer

Example: Length of Alternatives

Neurotics are more likely than psychotics to a. b. c. *d. be dangerous to society have delusional symptoms be dangerous to themselves have insight into their own inappropriate behavior but nevertheless feel rather helpless in terms of dealing with their difficulties

II. Guidelines for Writing: MC

Make one of the alternatives the most clearly correct or best answer
exception: multiple answer form reduces intrinsic ambiguity reduces frustration during test

Make distracters plausible

desire to attract students who really do NOT know the answer to the question create distracters from elements of the correct response improves reliability of item

Example: Undemanding Distracters

Mickey Mouses two nephews are a) Huey, Dewey and Louie b) Clarabelle Cow *c) Morty and Ferdy d) Abbott and Costello

The Role of Humour?

III. Guidelines for Writing: MC

Avoid parallel language between the Stem and the Correct Response
gives clues to keyed response
emphasizes testwiseness, not knowledge

Randomly distribute answers across the alternative positions

inexperienced test writers emphasize b and c alternatives (hide the answer!!) do NOT use an interpretable order of keyed responses

IV. Guidelines for Writing: MC

Use qualifiers such as all of the

above and none of the above

testwise students will use process of elimination to select answer do NOT use to pad out the distracters because you cannot think of another one.

Advantages of Multiple Choice Items

allow more adequate sampling of content.

tend to more effectively structure the problem to be addressed

items can be more efficiently and reliably scored than supply items different response alternatives can provide diagnostic feedback (item analysis) items can be constructed to address various levels of cognitive complexity

Disadvantages of Mult.Choice Items

difficult & time consuming to construct good items
leads to emphasis on other selected response item types

can lead the instructor to favour simple recall of facts high degree of dependence on students reading and instructors writing ability
can be difficult to achieve clarity of expression

measuring synthesis and evaluation can be difficult inappropriate for measuring outcomes that require skilled performance