Effective Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are an easy way to quickly assess student understanding and provide fast feedback to students.  On the other hand, writing MCQs can be time consuming as you write, review, and revise your questions.  It is important the MCQs are not testing the ability for students to choose the correct answer, rather they are testing student understanding.  In order to write effective MCQs you must first understand the two main components.

MCQs are composed of a stem and options.  The stem is the prompt at the first part of the question.  The options are composed of one correct answer and multiple incorrect answers.  The University of Texas Faculty Innovation Center (2016) gives the following tips to help you create effective MCQs in order to address understanding of content knowledge:

  • First write the stem, then the correct answer, and last write the incorrect answers to match the length, complexity, phrasing, and style
  • Follow the backwards design method by basing each question on course learning outcomes
  • Minimize the amount of reading for each question
  • Allow time to review and revise your questions

Tips for writing MCQ stems:

  • Write stems with clarity and be concise
  • Include as much information as possible in the stems to keep the options short
  • Use vocabulary that coincides with student understanding
  • If possible, do not use negatives

Tips for writing MCQ options:

  • Write only one best answer for each question
  • If possible, write all options in a question in the same style—no option should stand out simply because of the style in which it was written
  • Avoid using “all of the above” or “none of the above” as options
  • Keep the options in a single question similar in length
  • Use the incorrect answers as a way to assess student understanding of misconceptions

The following are examples of MCQs provided by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (Brame, 2013) that exhibit the qualities above:

What characteristic is relatively constant in mitochondrial genomes across species?

  1.  Content (I.e. types of genes)
  2. Organization
  3. Size

In addition to the nucleus, which organelles contain DNA?

  1.  Golgi bodies
  2. Mitochondria and chloroplasts
  3. Ribosomes

More information, tips, and examples can be found on the University of Texas Faculty Innovation Center website at:



In the discussion thread below, please share your examples of MCQs that follow the above tips. 


Brame, C., (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Retrieved November 25, 2016 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/

University of Texas at Austin Faculty Innovation Center. (2016). Multiple Choice Questions. Retrieved from: https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/teaching/check-learning/question-types/multiple-choice