How to Write Good MCQs

20 Apr 2020

Software: Canvas

Aim: Dissect the learning. Provide a mechanism for self-assessment.

Why: MCQs give the learner a chance to stop and reflect on their learning, to make sure they’ve fully absorbed the material before continuing further. They are also a quick and efficient evaluation tool for students and/or teachers.

How: MCQs can be easily created in Canvas using Quizzes.Next. See Guide here.

Tips for writing good MCQs:

  • Use positive constructions: Avoid questions which ask “Which of the following is not the correct answer”. Instead, try to ask “Which of the following is the correct answer.” This avoids confusion for the learner and it makes it easier for the teacher to compose feedback. It is much easier to say “That is incorrect. The correct answer is…” when you’re talking about the actual correct answer, not the correct-incorrect answer.
  • Pose a question: Ask a clear and complete question. Incomplete sentences that must be completed by selecting one of the answer options can cause confusion if there is a generic instruction built in to all questions. For example, you don’t want your question to read “The basic structure of an immunoglobulin is…Click the correct option…”. Similarly, if a blank space is provided in the middle of a question, this may be misconceived as a fill-in-the-blank question type.
  • Disguise the distractor: Always make sure the incorrect options are very similar to the correct options. All answers should be similar in length and use similar language. The distractor should not be so unrealistic that it stands out. For example, very specific words such as ‘never’ or ‘always’ may make the incorrect option much more obvious.
  • Randomise the options: Similar to the previous point. The options should not be ordered so as to reveal the correct answer. Change the position of the correct answer throughout the series of questions, so that it does not always come first. Likewise, if there are three correct answers and one incorrect, don’t list all the correct ones together with the wrong one located at the top or the bottom.
  • Say how many options must be selected: Learners will feel unfairly graded if they selected one correct answer when in fact there were three. They may also waste a significant amount of time trying to pick one, when they can see that several seem legit. To avoid numerous complaints from students, say how many options must be selected. For example, “Which three of the following….”.
  • Keep answers consistent: If one answer contains the title ‘The’, try apply it to the start of all answers. Also, stick to the same ‘part of speech’ in all answer stems (verbs, nouns, adjectives etc.).

If you do need to complete a sentence make sure all the answers read on from it. For example, if the question stem reads “George Boole wrote…”, then don’t have “he wrote The Laws of Thought” as an answer option.

More information on writing MCQs:

For more on this story contact:

Sophie Gahan

Instructional Designer
Centre for Digital Education


Centre for Digital Education

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