Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Creating Effective Multiple Choice Questions

So, you have assigned your students a WebQuest in the hopes that it will help them to master the standards you want to teach.  

You have given them a research task, resources to use, and now you are going to create a Quiz for them that doubles as a research activity.  

You want your students to have to search for the answers to questions that are ESSENTIAL to mastering the standards you have assigned.  

For example:  IF your standard is... 

Describe and give examples of ways in which Earth's surface is built up and torn down by physical and chemical weathering, erosion, and deposition.    

You would want to assign quiz questions that would require your students to research ways in which different structures on the surface of the earth are created and destroyed by weathering, erosion and deposition.  You would need to have questions that deal with:
  • physical weathering
  • chemical weathering
  • erosion
  • deposition
  • specific ways in which they occur

By the end of the quiz, students should have a very good knowledge base about the standard.  They should be able to explain the processes to you.

Your research activity/quiz requires multiple choice questions, however, you don't want to make them so easy that your students can avoid researching.  

When making multiple choice questions, it is important to come up with nonanswers that are close enough to the real answer to provide a challenge to the students.  These nonanswers are called distractors.  You want your distractors to use enough of the relevant vocabulary that they sound like they really could be the right answer.  You want to make it so that students HAVE to research in order find the correct answer.  

The Parts of a Multiple-Choice Question:
  • Item = the entire multiple choice question
  • Stem = the first, sentence-like portion of the multiple choice question
  • Alternates or options = all of the possible multiple-choice responses
  • Keyed Response =correct answer
  • Distractor or foil = the wrong answers. They are called distractors or foils because they should be written to closely resemble the keyed response, therefore distracting or foiling students who are good at guessing.

You want your questions to require higher order thinking.  Try to ask questions that want to know WHY something happens and do not just require students to memorize facts.  

WHY questions are always superior to WHAT questions.  You want all of your questions to be HOT questions- HOT meaning higher order thinking.  

So, relating back to our weathering standard- don't ask your students,  "What are the two types of weathering?" Instead ask them, "How do Physical and Chemical weathering differ?"  The poor questions simply asks students to memorize vocabulary terms while the other asks students to understand processes in nature.  Higher order questions have more power to teach and to determine what your students know.

Here are some examples to help you with identifying higher order multiple choice questions.  These examples have been modified from an excerpt taken from Writing Good Multiple-Choice Exams by Dawn M. Zimmaro, Ph.D:

Use the resources below to help you construct effective questions. Good luck!

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