Before you start
Pick your format. Don’t use multiple-choice questions when other question formats are more appropriate. Multiple-choice has limited effectiveness in assessing skills like problem-solving and creativity.
Creating the question stem
Be Clear. The stem of the question should present a clear and complete problem (e.g., Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?)
Don’t Hint. The questions should not clue the students to the correct answer.
The stem of the question should agree grammatically with each choice.
The options should be similar in length and amount of detail.
All options should seem plausible to the uninformed.
State the authority. If the question is controversial, an authority or theory should be referred to as support (e.g., According to most German historians, which of the following caused World War II?)
Avoid negative words. It is generally suggested that negative words be avoided in the question stem. If included, any negative word should be capitalized and/or underlined, and bolded (e.g., Which of the following is NOT an item of mountain climbing gear?)
Use questions. The stem of a question should generally be written as a question, not as an incomplete sentence.
Less Effective: The capital of California is …
More Effective: Which of the following cities is the capital of California?
Emphasize higher-level thinking (see Blooms’s Revised Taxonomy).
Creating the options
Avoid all of the above/none of the above. The option “all of the above” should not be used, as it increases the chance of students correctly guessing the right answer. It is also better to have three or more good options rather than to use “none of the above” as a choice. Questions that use “all of the above” and “none of the above” as options can be replaced with questions that ask students to pick all of the choices which may be correct.
Use just one idea. Each option should concisely state only one idea.
Keep it similar. All options should be as homogenous or similar as possible.
Use only plausible distracters. Use answers given in previous open-ended exams to provide realistic distracters.
Avoid extremes such as never, always, and only.
Complex formats. Avoid complex multiple-choice formats (e.g., both A and B, both B and C, etc.).
Use the ABC’s. Order the options to each question alphabetically.
Use visual separation. List all options vertically, not horizontally.
Balance. Balance the placement of the correct answer. Correct answers tend to be the second or third option. Don’t forget to use all the options equally.
For more on multiple choice, see Fourteen Rules to Writing Multiple Choice Questions and Writing Distracters.
Also see these Multiple Choice Practice Exercises in PDF format.