Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Guide: Designing good Multiple Choice Tests

Short description

Multiple Choice Tests generally contain a question (stem), which sometimes has a different form – a sentence or a text piece etc. The questions may be answered based on a number of alternatives, consisting of one or a number of correct answers and one or a number of distractors.

Designing Multiple Choice Tests

Multiple Choice Tests can be designed in many different ways and can test many different things, but as a main rule, Multiple Choice Tests must be:

  • closely connected to the syllabus and cover a broad range of content topics;
  • adapted to the level of the students;
  • phrased in clear and concise language without any grammatical errors;
  • objective, so that correct answers that are not dependent on interpretation can be given;
  • valid, so that the questions reflect the knowledge you want your students to have acquired;
  • reliable, so that uniform and fair assessment can be conducted of the students’ acquired knowledge compared to the syllabus; here, you may choose to ask more questions regarding the stipulated learning objectives; this will reduce the students’ possibility to guess the correct answers;
  • discrimination proof, for example by containing clear and flawless formulation, ensuring that linguistically challenged students should not spend energy on the language but can concentrate on the academic content.

In this page, you will find descriptions of seven different types of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) which you may include in Multiple Choice Tests in your teaching. The seven examples described were inspired by Danmarkshistorien.dk (website on the History of Denmark), and may easily be converted to other academic fields.


When you use Multiple Choice Tests in your teaching, the academic content is communicated in a new way, which may support the learning of individual students during preparations, in class and when reading for the exam. Multiple Choice Tests give you as a teacher an idea of what the students know and what they do not know. You can use this as a launch pad for the planning of your teaching, or you can use it currently during the semester to get an overview of the students’ understanding of the topics they are studying in the course.

1. Conventional MCQ

  1. Multiple choice: Based on a number of options, the students must choose one correct answer to the question asked.
  2. Multiple answer: There are several correct answers to the questions asked. Remember to state clearly that students must select several correct answers among the options given.
  3. Complete the sentence: Only part of a sentence is presented, and in their response, students must complete the sentence with the most correct answer from the options given. The sentence constitutes the question in this case. This type can also be designed with a missing word or expression in the sentence.

2. Free response (Fill in the blank)

  1. Brief text response to the question: The students must write their answer in the text box below the question. In this case, the challenge may be to ensure that different varieties of the correct answer will be acceptable, e.g. “Christian the eight, “Christian 8”, “Christian the 8” (the name of a Danish king). You should also consider if spelling mistakes should be acceptable, e.g. “Kristian 8”.

3. True/false MCQ

    1. Single true/false question: The question or statement must be assessed as either true or false.
    2. Multiple true/false question: Several options for answering one question are given, and each option must be assessed as either true or false.

4. Matching MCQ

  1. Linking a list of statements to another list of statements, e.g. concepts to theorists, years or events or quotations to authors.

5. Prioritised MCQ

    1. Prioritisation of alternative options: Based on the statement presented in the question, the students must list the options given in the correct order of priority. This may be designed as a context-dependent order of priority (see item 6).
    2. Order: The options are placed in the correct order, e.g. by listing the chronological order of events.

6. Context-dependant MCQ

    1. Analytical: The students must choose the most correct answer based on the options in relation to the context presented in the question. For instance, they may have to extract certain issues from an event or the description of an event, discovering the main reason for the event to happen.
    2. Perspectives: The students must choose between connections from across domains, e.g. connections between events or influence spanning across time or geographical locations. The students must choose the most correct answer based on the options in relation to the context presented in the question.

7. Visual MCQ

    1. Reading visual input and answering based on this, for instance as free response (see item 2) or as a conventional MCQ (see item 1). The visual input may be graphs, tables, maps, posters, paintings, photographs etc.
    2. Interactive completion or marking of a visual input, for instance a map, a timeline or something completely different. Beware of the limitations and possibilities embedded in the system.

Worth considering

  • Important points that the students may need to return to, and which are key elements in teaching sessions, may well be reviewed in Multiple Choice Tests. In this case, it is also relevant to follow up on the points after the students have answered the test questions.

  • Different objectives may call for the use of Multiple Choice Tests in teaching. For you as a teacher they may be useful as a launch pad for the planning of your teaching and for following up on the extent to which the students are learning what they should; however, they may also act as a revision tool for the students.