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THEME: Multiple Choice Questions

Newsletter March 2021 - Multiple Choice Questions

In this month’s newsletter, you can read about advantages, possibilities and challenges to Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) as a learning tool in teaching and as a testing tool for exams. You will get insight into how MCQ is used through two articles, which focus on teachers who have used MCQ in their courses and exams.

In the Past

MCQs were developed around 100 years ago. The background for this was both a need for effective mass testing and a need for a format, which eliminated the reviewer bias, which plagued the traditional test formats (essays, oral exams). Unlike the traditional testing formats, MCQ was also more effective in testing a broader range of subjects within the given exam time. Reviewer bias and insufficient test coverage can result in too much noise and too little signal. Even though useful pedagogical technologies exist today (e.g., rubrics, checklists etc.), which seek to limit reviewer bias in the traditional testing formats, the MCQ format still has a place in the well-assorted university teacher’s toolbox.


MCQs are not just useful for exams, but also as a tool to support online preparation and learning, for example by giving the students the opportunity of testing their understanding of texts, video lectures and the like. SDU’s new learning platform, itslearning, even makes it very easy to incorporate MCQs in relevant points in the plans the students are working with when learning online. MCQs can also be used as learning activities directly in lectures. Modern software makes it possible for the students to respond fast through their smartphones, laptops or other devices, allowing for immediate and individual feedback. Practices like these do not just improve learning for the students, they can also provide important feedback to the teacher before or during the lecture. This feedback makes it possible to put more focus on the students’ needs even in lecture settings with many students.

Myths, Possibilities and Useful Tools

MCQs are first and foremost great for testing knowledge. The MCQ format is sometimes criticised for testing thinking at a lower level (factual knowledge) to an excessive extent – and this may be the result in many cases. Unfortunately. But MCQs can actually test thinking at a higher level – for example testing if students can use their knowledge in a certain situation or if they are able to analyse or evaluate information given in a provided stimulus. This only requires that questions are constructed with that purpose in mind. On the other hand, questions are not as easy to construct, as you would think at first glance. There are numerous pitfalls, of which you need to be aware as a teacher. 

 Fortunately, there are several great and evidence-based guides for creating great questions available today. Two great tools are this written manual and this interactive online video, which are produced by the US National Board of Medical Examiners. They both introduce you how to create MCQ’s of a high quality. The principles and pitfalls are useful and applicable to all university teachers. If you need some examples of great MCQ’s, you can check out this paper, which is written by Thomas Haladyna – here you will find examples from many different subjects, which you can use as inspiration.

Furthermore, it is possible to quality check the results of MCQ exams before grading based on either simple or more advanced statistical analyses of the scores.

Course in Multiple Choice Questions

Sign up for the next free course in MCQ's provided to teachers at SDU. The course introduces you to ways to construct high quality MCQ's. The course takes place on April 23. Sign up below.

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The Great Example - Multiple Choice Questions as an Exam Tool

Grith Lykke Sørensen has often used multiple choice questions (MCQs) in exams at Module 3 on the BaSc in Medicine. In general, Grith has found that MCQ is a good tool for exams when combined with other question types.

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The Great Example - Multiple Choice Questions as a Teaching Activity

Mette Marie Hougaard Christensen has integrated multiple choice questions (MCQs) directly into her teaching. She describes MCQs as a great tool for engaging students and explains that you can avoid many of the challenges of the format if you spend time researching its strengths and weaknesses.

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Editing was completed: 24.03.2021