• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Work with all your cloud files (Drive, Dropbox, and Slack and Gmail attachments) and documents (Google Docs, Sheets, and Notion) in one place. Try Dokkio (from the makers of PBworks) for free. Now available on the web, Mac, Windows, and as a Chrome extension!


Writing MCQs for clickers is different

Page history last edited by Kevin Gould 10 years, 8 months ago

There are many guides in books, journal articles, and on the net, with advice on writing multiple choice questions (MCQs) for tests and examinations.  We have listed here some links to information on how to do this.  In contrast, far fewer resources specifically address the construction of MCQs for use with clicker technology.


There are a few key differences between the two. Indeed, when you are using MCQs with clickers, many of the recomendations for writing MCQs for exams can be disregarded, especially if clicker questions aren't being graded.


Ignore the rule books - be creative!

For example:

  • Present a question that has two or more correct answers, and ask the students to convince their neighbour why their own choice is the correct one;
  • Present a question for which the correct answer has not yet been scientifically determined, and ask students to debate and then vote on their preferred possibility; 
  • Present a question on a contentious topic (e.g. creationism versus evolution) or a contemporary issue (e.g. global warming), and ask students to justify their opinion vote;
  • Ask "trick" questions for which there is no correct answer;
  • Ask questions about trivial things but using specialised, difficult vocabulary; 
  • You can even use that often frowned-upon "all of the above" option, as it can be immensely useful in helping your students learn; 
  • It may be highly appropriate to ask a sequence of similar questions that lead on from each other; this can be an effective way to dig deeper into a topic.


There are several important differences between writing MCQs for exams, and writing MCQs for clickers. The following table (adapted from (Haladyna et al., 2002) compares the similarities and differences between the two.





Content concerns

Every item should reflect specific content and a single specific mental behaviour, as called for in test specifications

√ It is essential to know exactly what it is you want your students to learn from each question,

Base each item on important content to learn, avoid trivial content

Use novel material to test higher-order learning. Paraphrase textbook language or language used during instruction to avoid simply testing for recall

Keep the content of each item independent from that of other items on the same test

Not necessary. Questions building on from each other in a series can encourage students to dig deeper into a topic

Avoid over-specific and over-general content when writing MCQ items

Avoid opinion based items

DO NOT avoid opinion based items! These can be really useful for generating class discussion

Avoid trick items

Use trick items! A trick question can be useful to set up a 'reveal', where students are receptive to new ideas.

Keep vocabulary simple for the group of students being tested

Unless you are trying to extend their vocabulary…

Formatting concerns

Use the question, completion, and best answer versions of the conventional MCQ, the alternate choice, true-false, multiple true-false, matching and the contest-dependent item and item set formats. AVOID complex MCQ formats

Format the item vertically instead of horizontally

Style concerns

Edit and proof items

Use correct grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling

Minimise the amount of reading in each item

If you are asking questions from a Powerpoint presentation, this guideline is valid. However, if clickers are being used as a way for groups to report back after working on a case study, these can be as wordy as necessary

Writing the stem

Ensure that the directions in the stem are very clear.

Include the central idea in the stem instead of the choices

Avoid window dressing (excessive verbiage)

Word the stem positively, avoid negatives such as NOT and EXCEPT. If negative words are used, use the word cautiously and always ensure that the word appears capitalized and boldface

Writing the choices

Develop as many effective choices as you can, though research suggests three is adequate

Number of choices is limited only by the numbers of buttons on the clicker

Ensure that only one of the choices is the correct answer

MCQs with multiple correct answers are useful to spark discussion or engender higher order thinking. One-best answer questions, wherein all of the choices are correct - but one is ‘more correct' - are also useful for extending students.

Vary the location of the correct answer according to the number of answers

Place choices in logical or numerical order

Keep choices independent; choices should not be overlapping

Unless you’re writing a one-best answer type of question

Keep choices homogeneous in content and grammatical structure

Keep the length of choices about equal

None-of-the-above should be used carefully

Avoid 'all-of-the-above'

'All-of-the-above' can be useful in a learning contex

Phrase choices positively

Avoid giving clues to the right answer, such as

 - Specific determiners including always, never, completely, and absolutely

 - Clang associations, choices identical to or resembling words in the stem

 - Grammatical inconsistencies that cue the test-taker to the correct choice

 - Conspicuous correct choice

 - Pairs or triplets of options that clue the test-taker to the correct choice

 - Blatantly absurd, ridiculous options

√ (Though blatantly absurd options can introduce humour, which can be appropriate)

Make all distractors plausible

Use typical errors of your students to write your distractors

√ This can be particularly instructive

Use humour if it is compatible with the teacher and the learning environment


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.