Writing quality quiz answers

The strength of a multiple choice quiz lies equally in the quality of its questions and its answers.

Going through school we learned how to outsmart weak multiple choice quizzes, reasoning our way to the correct answer primarily through poor incorrect answer choices.

Writing answers that are obviously an incorrect choice dramatically reduce the teaching capabilities of Yarno because they increase the odds the learner can guess the correct answer.

Writing good incorrect answers requires a bit of effort – and is probably the biggest creative exertion that goes into writing Yarno quizzes. But we’ve got a few guidelines to help get you there.

Writing incorrect answers

Writing incorrect answers can be challenging and takes practice. But using the guiding principles of plausibility and structure similarity should help.

Plausibility

It may sound obvious, but making sure that your incorrect answers are actually plausible choices is the single biggest key to writing questions that challenge learners to think critically.

Plausible incorrect answers trigger deliberation in the learner’s mind. Deliberation is critical thinking and critical thinking is learning.

And while every question should have one empirically correct answer, a certain amount of ambiguity can help engage a learner’s brain.

The key to finding plausible incorrect answer choices is to ask, “what are the common mistakes people make in these situations?”

The mistakes people make in applying a body of information are informed by choices, and those incorrect choices are where you find your plausible incorrect answers.

Collaborating with your colleagues is also a great way to come up with some plausible incorrect answers. Reach out to your Subject Matter Experts and managers who observe workers in the field applying the knowledge you’re quizzing. Ask them what mistakes they see people making. That conversation will help spark some idea that you can translate some really good plausible incorrect answers.

Structure similarity

Learners who don’t know a correct answer will often try to reason their way to a correct answer based on how the question and answers are structured and worded. 

The best practice to avoid this is to write all the answer choices for a question to be a similar length and grammatical structure.

For instance, here’s a question where the correct answer is easy to pick out based on how the answer is structured:

According to science what’s most people’s optimal time of day to be productive?

  1. Afternoon.
  2. Evening.
  3. Morning, after a light, protein-based breakfast.
  4. Late night.

This is a classic trap. Clearly, the answer is number 3, but you see this all the time.

So there are two options here to fix this question: shorten all answers to one or two words, or expound on all of them.

Here’s what expounding them may look like:

According to science what’s most people’s optimal time of day to be productive?

  1. Afternoon, immediately after a cup of coffee.
  2. Evening, after arriving home but before dinner.
  3. Morning, after a light, protein-based breakfast.
  4. Late night, well after dinner with a hot a cup of tea.

See how they're all a similar length and sentence structure? Knowledge of the subject would let a learner choose the correct answer, but the structure of the answers themselves would not give the answer away.

True or False / Yes or No

Also, let’s address this tempting trap: True/False and Yes/No answers reduce the effectiveness of Yarno. 

True or False has essentially no testing utility within the framework of Yarno because the chance of answering correctly is very high - 50/50. 

And questions for which the answers are framed around Yes and No responses are relatively easy for leaners to reason their way through and arrive at the correct answer. 

So set this shortcut aside, because these questions can usually be reframed to avoid yes/no true/false answers.

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