Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) are sometimes referred to as “objective” tests, although the only thing which is more objective about them than other forms of assessment is the standardisation of the marking scheme.
They consist of a "stem", which usually takes the form of a question. The student then has to choose from a number of "items", which are alternative answers. In most forms, one of these is the correct answer (although there are variants which allow for a number of correct answers), and the others are "distractors".
- Useful for easy administration to large numbers of students, especially where marking is to be done by assistants rather than the test-setter. Computer marking and web-administered tests are well-established.
- Effective for testing sheer knowledge and memory, and for problem-solving in convergent subject areas.
- Any area in which there may be legitimate dispute about the "correct" answer.
- Good MCQs are much harder to design than you think.
- Knowledge that a topic is to be assessed by MCQs may well encourage students to revise by memorising discrete items of information, rather than developing an overall understanding of the topic.
- The probability of choosing the correct answer on a random basis is not particularly high, if there are sufficient distractors ("True or false" questions are rarely a good idea), and a sufficient number of questions.
- The "trick" is to ensure that the distractors are plausible. If they are chosen on the basis of representing common errors in understanding the topic, patterns of wrong choices can have useful diagnostic value.