Skip to Content

Quick Reference Guide for Writing Effective Test Questions

Writing effective test questions can be a challenging task, especially when a test is being used to measure learning outcomes. Use this quick reference guide as a refresher before you begin writing test questions for your course or as you make changes to existing test questions.

Essay Questions

Click to download a larger PDF version.
Click to download a larger PDF version.

  • Use essay questions to analyze, synthesize, make connections or explain a topic within a new context to measure higher-level thinking skills.
  • Focus on higher-level, directional verbs in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Provide clear guidelines, such as a grading guide or scoring rubric, to enable students to respond how you want the essays to be answered.
  • Experiment with writing several short essays rather than one long one to allow students to write on a variety of topics. They’re also easier to score.

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Use multiple choice questions to assess a variety of learning outcomes or focus on higher-level thinking.
  • Construct effective stems and solutions or alternatives.
  • Stems should present a single, clear problem and form a question.
  • Exclude irrelevant material.
  • Avoid negative phrasing.
  • State the solution/alternative clearly.
  • Avoid including clues.
  • Avoid using all of the above and none of the above.
  • Present in logical order.
  • Distractors must be plausible.
  • Multiple choice questions are less susceptible to guessing.

True or False

  • It’s best to avoid using true or false questions as there is a high probability of guessing the correct response.
  • They are also difficult to write because true/false questions must be phrased without additional qualifications and have no qualifying exceptions.
  • Using qualifying words, such as “sometimes” or “always” provides a clue to the correct answer.
  • They are better for pre-tests to help identify what the learner doesn’t know.
  • If thinking of writing a true or false question, try asking yourself, is there a more substantial way to ask this question?


Image created by Alyssa Robinson