CONSTRUCTING GOOD MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST ITEMS

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Introduction

 

The multiple-choice  item is one of the most well known kinds of test used in educational assessment. Many people say that they like to use multiple choice item because it is practical. However, to construct good multiple choice item is not easy like when it is scored. There are four terms that typically found in a multiple choice item: a stem – the text of the question; options – the choices provided after the stem; the key: the correct answer in the list of options; distractors: the incorrect answers in the list of options. It is common knowledge that the correct answers should be distributed evenly among the alternative positions of multiple choice items, but there are many other important guidelines for writing good items. For example, Burton et al (1991) describes 16 guidelines for writing better multiple choice items.

 

Example of Good Multiple Choice Item

Read the text carefully and answer the questions correctly.

 

The Legend of King Arthur

 

King Arthur was born at the castle of Tintagel, in England. His parents weren’t married, so the baby boy went to live with Merlin, a wizard. Merlin became Arthur’s friend and teacher. He taught Arthur everything he needed to know become King.  One day, when Arthur was fifteen, he went out with Merlin. They were near a lake when they saw the white arm of a lady in the water. In her hand there was a magic sword, Excalibur. The lady of the lake gave the sword to Arthur. Everyone knew then that he was their next king.

With the help of Excalibur, Arthur became a good soldier and great King. He lived in the Castle of Camelot, where there was a famous Round table. There Arthur and his knights sat to talk about their battles. Arthur married the beautiful Guinevere, but she loved Sir Lancelot, one of Arthur’s knights and his best friend. One day, in a terrible battle, Arthur told one of his men to throw Excalibur back into the lake, and the hand of the lady of the lake took back the sword. Excalibur disappeared forever. Arthur died in battle. (Adapted from Cutting Edge Starter written by Sarah Cunningham)

1. Who did Arthur live with when he was a boy?

a. Guinevere.

b. Merlin.

c. Sarah Cunningham.

d. Sir Lancelot.

2. Who is Merlin?

a. A beautiful girl.

b. A friend of Arthur.

c. A writer.

d. A wizard.

3. How did Arthur get Excalibur?

a. He was given by the lady of the lake.

b. He got it after having a terrible battle.

c. He found it at the castle of Camelot

d. He took it form his best friend, Sir Lancelot.

4. How did everyone know that Arthur was the next King?

a. He was taught by Merlin.

b. He got married with Guinevere.

c. He had a sword, named Excalibur.

d. He became a good soldier.

5. What did Arthur and other knights do in the round table?

a. Getting married with a girl.

b. Having a terrible battle.

c. Taking a sword, named Excalibur.

d. Talking about the battle.

Explanation

The examples that are given are good multiple choice item. Each example above has the criteria to be claimed as good multiple choice item. Here is the explanation.

The Stem

  1. The stems that I make present a single, definite statement to be completed or answered by one of the several given choices. The examples that are given above clearly identifies the question and offers the student a set of homogeneous choices. Look at the comparison below:

Who did Merlin live with?

a. Guinevere.

b. Merlin.

c. Sarah Cunningham.

d. Sir Lancelot.

In this example, there is no sense from the stem what the question is asking. The answer can be a, b, or d. It is different when the stem is changed.

Who did Arthur live with when he was a boy?   

a. Guinevere.

b. Merlin.

c. Sarah Cunningham.

d. Sir Lancelot.

The second examples clearly identifies the question and offers the student to choose only one correct answer.

  1. I avoid unnecessary and irrelevant material.

All of the examples that are given above contain relevant material. They all ask about the information that is given in the text.

  1. I use clear, straightforward language in the stem of the item. Questions that are constructed using complex wording may become a test of reading comprehension rather than an assessment of whether the student knows the subject matter. Look at the comparison below.

Merlin, a man who taught Arthur everything he needed to know become King, is __________.

a. A beautiful girl.

b. A friend of Arthur.

c. A writer.

d. A wizard.

This test item actually wants to ask who Merlin is.  Nevertheless, it does not use clear and straight forward language. Therefore, we have to change the stem in order to make it clearer and simpler. This is the changing.

Who is Merlin?

a. A beautiful girl.

b. A friend of Arthur.

c. A writer.

d. A wizard.

This example clearly ask the test taker who Merlin is. It uses clear and straight forward language. Therefore the test taker will get the sense and know what is being asked.

  1. All of the test items that I made does not use negative. All of the stems are stated in positive.
  2. Put as much of the question in the stem as possible, rather than duplicating material in each of the options. (Gronlund 1988).

The Distractors

  1. For each question that I made, there is only one correct response. It means that the test taker will not get confuse in choosing the best and correct answer.

Example:

How did Arthur get Excalibur? (Question no. 3)            

a. He was given by the lady of the lake.

b. He got it after having a terrible battle.

c. He found it at the castle of Camelot

d. He took it form his best friend, Sir Lancelot.

The best answer of that questions is A. The others are just distractors.

  1. For the distracters, I use only plausible and attractive alternatives. All distracters that I use in the test items are taken from the text. None of them is taken out of the text.
  2. I avoid giving clues to the correct answer. There is no clue or other signal that is given in order to help the test taker identifying the best answer.
  3. I provide a sufficient number of distracters.
  4. The next reason that makes these test items can be claimed as good multiple choice item is that all of the alternatives that I give are homogenous in content.

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