Common Flaws on Multiple Choice Questions

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When writing multiple choice questions, some educators make mistakes that can actually benefit the test-taker. Watch this lesson to find out about some common flaws that show up on multiple choice tests and how they can help you do well.

Multiple Choice Tests

Tyler is a behavioral theorist. He believes:

A) Psychologists should focus on people's feelings

B) Psychologists should focus on people's thoughts

C) Psychologists should focus on people's behaviors

If you've ever taken a multiple choice test, or test consisting of questions whose answers you choose from several options, you know that they can be very hard. But some questions, like the one we just looked at, can be figured out in a simple way.

Take the question about Tyler. The question describes him as a behavioral theorist. If you look at the answer choices, one of them (answer C) has the word 'behaviors' in it. By noticing that both the question and one answer choice have words that are similar, you can probably guess that Tyler believes psychologists should focus on people's behaviors, even if you don't know what a behavioral theorist is.

There are many ways to approach a multiple choice test and many strategies you can use. One way to do well on a multiple choice test is to understand some of the common flaws that might appear in a multiple choice question, like having the same word in both the question and one answer choice. Knowing the common weak points in multiple choice questions can help you do really well on the test. Let's look at some of the common flaws in multiple choice questions.

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  • 0:02 Multiple Choice Tests
  • 1:33 What to Look For
  • 4:18 Qualifiers & Absolutes
  • 6:20 Lesson Summary
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What to Look For

Gene has a hard time concentrating in school, and he fidgets and moves around a lot. Which psychological disorder might he have?

A) Bipolar disorder

B) Manic depression

C) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

So, we know that there are certain mistakes test writers make that can benefit test-takers. But what are the common flaws that might show up on a multiple choice test?

1. Equivalence among answer choices

Sometimes, two answer choices are the same thing. Take the question about Gene's disorder: manic depression and bipolar disorder are two names for the same thing. Those two answers are equivalent. When two answers on a multiple choice test are the same, it almost always means you can eliminate those answers. After all, you can't pick A and not pick B if they mean the same thing!

2. Off-topic answer choices

Imagine that I ask you a question about leaders during the American Revolution, and one of the answer choices is Abraham Lincoln. That doesn't make sense; he had nothing to do with the American Revolution! You can quickly eliminate that answer.

Off-topic answer choices could be from a completely different content area, like having a math problem on an English test, or more likely they'll be from the same content area but a different segment of that content, like having Lincoln as a choice in a Revolutionary question. Both Lincoln and the American Revolution are part of American history, but they are from different parts of American history, and therefore, we can eliminate the answer choice about Lincoln.

3. More detail or longer answer choices

Let's say that I ask what is a major theme of the book To Kill a Mockingbird. All of the answer choices are one or two words, like 'romance' or 'hunting birds.' But one answer is longer and more detailed, like 'the importance of taking others' viewpoints into consideration.' Even without reading the book, it's probably clear that the longer, more detailed answer is the correct one. Often, more detail or length in an answer choice indicates a correct answer.

4. Similar words in question and answer choice

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