Tip of the Month: The Art of Writing the MCQ

Brainstorming elearning questions with a spider diagram

Keeping your learners engaged – and making sure they are retaining information – is your main job as an educator or trainer. Quizzing learners on the most important aspects of your course’s content is the best way to gauge how engaged they are.

Multiple choice questions (or MCQs) are one great method you can use to keep your learners on their toes and make sure they are following – and understanding – your course. MCQs test the learner is digesting the most important elements of each part of your course while giving them a sense of accomplishment. Where a long answer question must be manually marked, MCQs can give the learner immediate feedback – and an immediate sense of achievement.

MCQs don’t just test how much your learners know, however. Harvard researchers have found breaking up online course content with short tests decreased student’s distraction by half, tripled the number of students who were actively taking notes and  gave students an incentive to stay focussed.

Our November Tip of the Month will help you build great MCQs to challenge your learner and help them retain valuable information.

Question time

Key learning points become the content of your elearning MCQ

Identify key learning points. Think about what you want your learners to remember at the end of your course, then write questions that cover each of these points.

Question the right content. Look for types of content that lend themselves well to becoming questions such as lists, steps, and definitions. The point where the right content intersects with your key learning points is where the juiciest questions live.

Keep it simple. Explore one idea per question – don’t let it get too complicated. Pick one concept, and drill into one of its aspects. Any more than this will confuse your learner.

Clear affirmative questions work best. Questions in the affirmative – rather than negative – are less confusing for your learner. A phrase like “identify which of the following are...” is much easier for learners to answer than “which of the following are not...”.

Vary your question type. Multiple choice questions can be asked in multiple ways. Examples of different ways to phrase your questions include:

  • Which of the following...
  • Fill in the blanks...
  • Identify...


Keep it short. The longer the answer, the more likely your learner will be to make a mistake or tick the wrong box. Try to keep answer options reasonably short – under five words is ideal.

Approach your answers logically. As with question format, there are a number of ways you can construct your answers too. You should present choices in some logical order, for example chronological, most to least, or alphabetical. Strive for at least four alternatives, with two answers that are close to correct, one that is way off and one correct answer.

Change it up. Different types of MCQ answers include:

  • Steps. The learner must put the answers in the order they occur.
  • Single select. Only one answer is correct.
  • Multi-select. There is more than one correct answer.
  • True/false answers. The learner identifies whether a statement is true or false.
  • Drag to match.  The learner assesses and correctly categorises information between two columns. The GIF below will show you how this works. 

Drag and drop elearning questions can challenge your learners

Don’t try to catch your learners out. MCQs are a part of the learning experience, not just a tool to test knowledge. When constructing your answers, don’t worry too much about catching students out who haven’t been 100% engaged. Make the experience fun and give learners a couple of tries to get the answers correct.

When in doubt, don’t always pick “C”! There has been a lot of research into how to beat an MCQ test – and it seems even computer-generated quizzes have patterns. Students panicking before a quiz are usually calmed with the old adage ‘When in doubt, just pick “c”’. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to the cause. 

Although you’re not trying to deliberately throw your learners off the scent, you don’t want them to get complacent either. Changing your question format, and not always choosing “C” as the correct answer will keep your learners interested while still being fair.

If you’re interested in finding out more about delivering your courses online, sign up for a free trial of CourseGenius, or contact our Australian-based support team on 1300 880 200

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