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Formulate questions and answer options

What is essential when creating a quiz or poll question, and how do you write credible incorrect answer options? Here you can, for example, read about the importance of clear language with fewer negation structures and how to set the right level of questions. You also get tips on when different answer forms are appropriate and what to consider when creating reasonable incorrect answer options.

Keep GDPR in mind

Avoid including sensitive personal data in your questions and avoid encouraging respondents to disclose such information. It is an unnecessary risk as quizzes and polls can, at least in theory, trace an answer to a respondent.

When formulating questions for a quiz or poll, consider the following:

  • Use clear language.
  • Avoid using negations.
  • Check for duplicate information.
  • Set the appropriate level of difficulty.
  • Choose the correct answer format.
  • Create credible incorrect answers.

Below, we explain why these principles are important and how to implement them.

Use clear language

It is important that you write clear questions that are easy to understand, also known as plain language. This means using language that is moderated, simple and understandable.

Principles for writing clear language include:

  • Keeping questions moderately short, with a maximum of a few sentences.
  • Putting the main idea first in the sentences.
  • Use terms that students understand.

For more help on plain language, you can read How to write in plain English (plainenglish.co.uk) .

You may deviate from using clear language if the purpose is to test students' understanding of complex language. For example, if you are assessing their vocabulary or other linguistic skills.

Avoid using negations

Be cautious when using negations as they make the text more challenging to read and can unnecessarily confuse students. Instead, write straightforwardly and avoid using negations to make sentences easier to understand. For example, compare the following sentences:

  • Bad: Practice assignments should not be at different levels before the exam as during the final exam.
  • Good: Practice assignments before the exam should be at the same level as the final exam.

If negations must be used, it is usually better to use active verbs instead of "not," as shown in the following example:

  • Bad: Do not use negations.
  • Good: Avoid using negations.

Check for duplicate information

A common mistake is that the answer to one question can be found in the text of another question, either in whole or in part. For instance, if a question asks students to identify symbols in a wiring diagram and those symbols are used with explanations in another question.

To avoid duplicating information, try to maintain a mindset or theme that runs throughout the questions. This makes it easier to detect if two questions are about the same area. You can, for example, rephrase the questions or put them in different quizzes.

Set the appropriate level of difficulty

The questions should reflect the difficulty level of the rest of the course in order for the students to perceive it as a fair basis for assessment and teaching. As a teacher, you also get better control of the students' knowledge gaps if the questions are at the right level, both cognitively and in terms of content.

To set the appropriate level of difficulty in your questions, start with the student's knowledge and experience. Ensure that students can answer the questions using the tools they learned in the course and how they learned to use them. Feel free to give tips to help students in the right direction if the question is about a new situation.

The students appreciate if the questions focus on relevant parts of the course, which is usually the content that will be assessed or that which has a clear application in their working life. For example, it is better to have a question about the content of Newton's laws rather than the order of them or the spelling of his name.

Choose the correct answer format

How a question should be answered affects how the students work with it and how you as a teacher handle the answers. Therefore, the response format is strongly tied to the purpose. For example, questions with pronounced answers, such as "true or false," are advantageous as they are easy to answer and easy to assess. However, the downside is that it is also easier for students to copy someone else's answer or guess the correct answer.

If the purpose is to test or examine the students, questions are recommended in which the students must formulate their own answers. In Canvas, for example, these formats are "Formula", "Numeric" and "Fill in the blank - open entry". If you still want to use questions with explicit answers, you need to set a grading scale adapted to prevent students from passing by guessing the answers. Those interested can read more in the article Analysis of multiple choice assignments as an examination form (Swedish, idunn.no) .

Create credible incorrect answers

Incorrect answer options should be credible without deceiving the students. This will ensure that only students who have truly misunderstood the concept will choose the incorrect answer. Moreover, it will reduce the likelihood of students guessing the correct answer. When designing correct and incorrect alternatives in a question, ensure they have similar grammar, length, and number of value digits.

When formulating the incorrect answers, consider starting from old answers to similar assignments to identify common incorrect answers and lines of thought. This approach will help you create incorrect answer options that address common misunderstandings and enable you to clear them up for the student

Examples of poor answer options

Below are some examples of poor answer options. For clarity, the second option is the correct answer in all examples and it is also bolded. In the first two examples, the correct answer is so different from the rest that a student can choose it without even reading the question. In the third example, the answers are too similar to distinguish between them, even if the student knows the answer.

  • Example 1: 2 / 3.1415 / 4 / 5
  • Example 2: Green / Blue with a slight transition to purple at the edges / Red / Yellow
  • Example 3: 2 / 2.0 / 2,0 / 1.9999
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Last changed: Mar 12, 2024