Writing Successful Quiz Questions

The ultimate goal of every Yarno question is to get people who don’t know the answer through to the Explanation screen, where the real learning moment happens. 

That means that questions need to be written skillfully enough so that people who don’t already know the correct answer are not able to figure it out. 

But most multiple choice questions we’ve encountered in life are poorly written. And going through school we learned tricks, like process-of-elimination, to figure out answers without actually knowing them. 

So how can we write good multiple choice questions? 

Questions that promote critical thinking

Challenging your brain to actively recall information – let’s call that information knowledge – and reason through it will result in much deeper understanding and longer retention. So imagine yourself as a learning personal trainer. Your job is to design learning exercises that truly challenge your learners to engage their brains. 

Here’s a simple guide to writing questions that require learners to think critically to summon previously learned knowledge: 

  • Quiz the why - Why is it important for your people to know or do something?
  • Quiz the process - How specifically is something done? Or what are the details of the idea?
  • Quiz the consequence - What are the ramifications of doing or not doing something, or knowing or not knowing something?

With this strategy in mind we hold the idea we want to reinforce in our mind and ask: 

  • “Why is it important for hospitality workers to know how and when to wash their hands?”
  • ”What can happen if they don’t wash their hands at the right times?”
  • ”What are the specifics of the hand washing procedure?"

Questions that stand alone

Every question should be meaningful in and of itself, and should present a definite problem for the learner to solve. If someone who has knowledge about a topic reads a question about it without seeing the answer choices they should be able to answer the question.

Instead of asking:

Which of the following statements correctly define how tannins affect wine flavour

You could make this question meaningful by itself by writing:

What characteristics do tannins add to the flavour of wine?

The difference is that a meaningful question primes the learner’s brain for active participation in reaching an answer, making the learning more impactful. Questions that are not meaningful, and rely on a list of answers to communicate the question, are passive, requiring much less mental energy for the learner to simply select an answer from a list.

Well written questions stand on their own, communicating a problem for the learner to solve with the power of their brain.

Positively phrased questions

Negatively phrased questions confuse learners. They are a better measure of reading comprehension than of knowledge, rely on the process of elimination.

Positively phrased questions take a bit more energy to write but are far more meaningful on their own. 

Writing clearly, concisely and honestly

A good multiple choice question attempts to honestly quiz a learners knowledge.

It does NOT attempt to confuse or trick the learner.
For example this question is not  clear, concise or honest:
The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia is divided into the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Who is the representative of the Australian Head of State?
There’s a bunch of extraneous information before the actual question that attempts to confuse the learner, assessing their ability to pay attention more than their knowledge of the subject. 
A better version of this question would be simply:
Who is the representative of the Australian Head of State?

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