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Example: Preferred multiple-choice questions

Below are four sets of multiple-choice questions followed by an explanation why one question in each set is preferred over the other.  

Question 1  

1A. The promiscuous use of sprays, oils, and antiseptics in the nose during acute colds is a pernicious practice because it may have a deleterious effect on:

  1. the sinuses
  2. red blood cells
  3. white blood cells
  4. the olfactory nerve

1B. Frequent use of sprays, oils, and antiseptics in the nose during a bad cold may result in:

  1. the spreading of the infection to the sinuses
  2. damage to the olfactory nerve
  3. destruction of white blood cells
  4. congestion of the mucous membrane in the nose

1B is the better question. 1A is wordy and uses vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to many students. 1B not only asks what part of the body is affected (sinuses) but also what is the result (spreading of infection).

Question 2

2A. In 1965, the death rate from accidents of all types per 100,000 population in the 15-24 age group was:

  1. 59.0
  2. 59.1
  3. 59.2
  4. 59.3

2B. In 1965, the leading cause of death per 100,000 population in the 15-24 age group was from:

  1. respiratory disease
  2. cancer
  3. accidents
  4. rheumatic heart disease

2B is the better question. The difference between the options in 2A is trivial. Also, 2A asks for memorization of factual information.

Question 3

3A. About how many calories are recommended daily for a 14-year old who is 62 in. tall, weighs 103 lbs., and is moderately active?

  1. 1,500
  2. 2,000
  3. 2,500
  4. 3,000

3B. About how many calories are recommended daily for a 14-year old who is 62 in. tall, weighs 103 lbs., and is moderately active?

  1. 0
  2. 2,000
  3. 2,500
  4. 3,000

3A is the better question. 3B contains a distractor that is not plausible (0 calories).

Question 4

4A. Which of the following is a category in the taxonomy of the cognitive domain?

  1. Reasoning ability
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Rote learning
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above

4B. What is the most complex level in the taxonomy of the cognitive domain?

  1. Knowledge
  2. Synthesis
  3. Evaluation
  4. Analysis
  5. Comprehension

4B is the better question. 4A asks for simple identification of a category, whereas 4B asks for differentiation between the levels. 4A also contains “all of the above” and “none of the above” as option choices, which should be avoided, if possible.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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