Writing positively phrased questions

We’re all familiar with questions like these from school:

Which of these is not a type of coffee drink?


All of these are types of tea leaf except…

These are called Negatively Phrased Questions, and they confuse learners.

These kinds of questions only need to omit a word or two – “not” and “except” – to have an entirely different meaning, so often they end up confusing learners who read them incorrectly.

Negatively phrased questions becomes more about measuring reading comprehension than knowledge.

But beyond that, a negatively phrased question is almost always passive, priming the learner to use process of elimination to arrive at an answer, instead of requiring them to think critically.

And finally, negatively questions are rarely meaningful on their own.

How do I write Positively Phrased Questions?

It takes a bit more creative energy to write positively phrased questions.

So as an example you could rewrite the two questions above like this:

What is a type of non-coffee drink served at cafes?


What spice is the traditional dominant flavour in chai tea?

Making sense?


There may be some scenarios where a negatively phrased question makes sense or is unavoidable. Here’s a possible exception:

Which is NOT the correct wire to cut when defusing a bomb?

But note that I’ve made the question meaningful by itself, and have also given the word "not" special emphasis.

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