Developing and validating multiple choice exam items

In constructing multiple choice items to test higher order thinking, it can also be helpful to design problems that require multilogical thinking, where multilogical thinking is defined as “thinking that requires knowledge of more than one fact to logically and systematically apply concepts to a …problem” (Morrison and Free, 2001, page 20).

Items that are excessively wordy assess students’ reading ability rather than their attainment of the learning objective 3. Alternatives with overlapping content may be considered “trick” items by test-takers, excessive use of which can erode trust and respect for the testing process. Alternatives should be free from clues about which response is correct.

A question stem is preferable because it allows the student to focus on answering the question rather than holding the partial sentence in working memory and sequentially completing it with each alternative (Statman 1988). The function of the incorrect alternatives is to serve as distractors,which should be selected by students who did not achieve the learning outcome but ignored by students who did achieve the learning outcome.

The cognitive load is increased when the stem is constructed with an initial or interior blank, so this construction should be avoided. Alternatives that are implausible don’t serve as functional distractors and thus should not be used.

When writing multiple choice items to test higher-order thinking, design questions that focus on higher levels of cognition as defined by Bloom’s taxonomy.

A stem that presents a problem that requires application of course principles, analysis of a problem, or evaluation of alternatives is focused on higher-order thinking and thus tests students’ ability to do such thinking.

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