14 reasons why your multiple-choice quiz sucks

Unlike some of my peers, I’m not an opponent of the multiple-choice quiz. It’s a convenient and efficient means of assessing e-learners, if it’s done well.

The problem, unfortunately, is that it’s often done poorly. So poorly, in fact, it’s embarrassing.


At my workplace, I am regularly subjected to the multiple-choice quiz.

In fact, over the years in a range of jobs across several industries, not to mention my time in high school and university, I have been subjected to countless multiple-choice quizzes.

So I feel eminently qualified to tell you why yours sucks…

Thumbs down

  1. The questions don’t represent the learning objectives, so why did I waste my time doing the course?

  2. There aren’t many questions, so I should be able to bluff my way through them.

  3. The number of attempts is unlimited, so I’ll just keep guessing until I pass.

  4. The pass mark is low, but my customers aren’t so forgiving.

  5. The questions and answers aren’t randomised at each attempt, so I’ll jot down my responses to prepare for next time: 1-A, 2-D, 3-B…

  6. I’ll also ask my mate what he got for Questions 3, 6 & 8.

  7. The questions follow the order of the topics in the course, but I’m unlikely to encounter them in that order on the job.

  8. You use “All of the above” only when it’s correct.

  9. The ridiculous answer is obviously incorrect.

  10. The longest answer is probably correct, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered writing it.

  11. More than one of the answers is arguably correct, and I’m shocked you didn’t know that.

  12. Your use of the double negative can only mean one thing: you can’t write no good.

  13. You try to trick me rather than confirm my understanding of the central concepts, so remind me: what’s the purpose of your role in this organisation?

  14. Your questions test my recall of obscure facts rather than my behaviour in authentic situations, so this exercise has no bearing on my performance.

Clearly I’m being deliberately pointed, but in all honesty, have you ever been guilty of one of those clangers?

I know I have.

But that’s no reason to vilify the multiple-choice quiz. When combined with other forms of assessment, it’s a valuable piece of the pedagogical puzzle.

Let’s just design it better.

Chicken takes a multiple-choice quiz

Explore posts in the same categories: assessment, instructional design

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10 Comments on “14 reasons why your multiple-choice quiz sucks”

  1. Kerrie Says:

    All of the above (are true!).

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    LOL! Thanks Kerrie.

  3. Corey Cohen Says:

    Ryan, you’re so right on many of these fronts. Check out my blog post that addresses the overly utilized practice of multiple choice in standardized testing. My argument is that although it’s a cheap way to examine student performance, it incentivizes teachers to educate based on old tests. More variety in types of questions will remove that temptation. And learning for the fun of it might actually come back in style for students.


  4. Great post Ryan!
    I couldn’t agree more with your point about “just design it better”.
    Good lessons here :)

  5. Richard He Says:

    Interesting post, Ryan! In the e-learning settings, we have the opporunity to develop (not just write) MCQs in a more reasonable way and avoid making the quiz sucks. I have been using video-clip-based MCQ for training – either the questions contain video clips or each of the possible answer is a video clip. That gets the students to take non-verbal factors into consideration. I let the users attempt the test as many times as they wish, but they got to achieve 100% to pass. Of course, I’ve got a question bank (one learning objective has a number of different questions). They can “cheat” – they can have the test open on one screen and have the instructional materials on the other screen. That’s fine. I even redirect them back to materials that they need to review when they get a question wrong. It is a way to promote “real learning”. Confident enought? Then start a new attempt again. We don’t have to make an MCQ quiz sucks, but it really depends on the purpose of the quiz and the philosophy the designer holds.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Richard. Yes, of course there will always be cheating (where there’s a will, there’s a way). However, I think your use of video is excellent; the more authentic the question, the less valuable cheating becomes. If the employee would seek relevant information in a *real* situation, I don’t see why they can’t do that during the quiz.

  7. Ray Peck Says:

    Richard, any way we can take a look at one of your video clip based assessments

  8. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Hey Ray, you might need to contact Richard through his website: http://www.richardhe.com

  9. Julie Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Your post is very interesting– on the flip side, you might want to check out John Kleeman’s blog post: Multiple choice quizzes help learning, especially with feedback — http://blog.questionmark.com/multiple-choice-tests-help-learning-especially-with-feedback


  10. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Julie. Indeed I am an advocate of the multiple-choice quiz, if it’s done well. Bearing in mind this kind of assessment won’t be appropriate in all situations.

    Thanks for the link to John Kleeman’s blog post. That kind of research is good to know.

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