Image represnting multiple choice question

March 20, 2023, by Helen Whitehead

Writing questions for quizzes in Moodle and ExamSys

In our recent “iTeach: Engaging Students” webinars [Link to Moodle: sorry UoN only], we discussed in the final webinar the difficulty of writing questions, such as multiple choice questions, for quizzes and tests. If questions aren’t properly written, it’s possible to score well just by knowing how the questions work. It’s amazing how many online courses and quizzes I could have easily passed simply by gaming the quiz structure – not from reputable educational institutions, of course! If you’re putting together a quick formative test, here are some tips.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Try not to give clues for the correct option, e.g.,
    • Grammatical clues such as ending the stem with ‘an’ or ‘a’.
    • Logical clues such as the correct item appearing in each option.
    • Correct option is longer or more specific than others.
    • Repeating a word in the correct option that is in the stem.
    • Correct option includes multiple elements in common with other options.
  • Check options are phrased correctly and avoid ones that do not follow the stem grammatically or logically.
  • Avoid vague qualifiers such as ‘rarely’, ‘usually’, ‘always’ and ‘never’.
  • Questions can be rephrased but try to avoid negative questions such as ‘which of the following are not…’

Good practice

  • Put most of the detail in the stem and keep options short and roughly the same length.
  • Make the options similar in grammatical structure and complexity.
  • Ensure all distractors are plausible.
  • Look at common errors and misconceptions as a source of distractors.

ExamSys-specific advice

  • Dichotomous and Extended Matching questions should have more than 1 stem. If not it is best to use an MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions).
  • Only use Multiple Response when there is more than one correct option, otherwise use MCQ.
  • For image hotspots it’s really improtant that the hotspot area is drawn correctly.

Further Details

Case, S.M. & Swanson, DB. (1998) Constructing Written Test Questions for the Basic and Clinical Sciences. National Board of Medical Examiner. [] Accessed 20 February 2023

Case, S.M. (1994) The use of imprecise terms in examination questions: how frequent is frequently? Academic Medicine 69(10):p S4-6October 1994.
Accessed 13th March 2023

Collins, J. (2006). Writing Multiple-Choice Questions for Continuing Medical Education Activities and Self-Assessment Modules RadioGraphics, 26, 543-551  Accessed 13th March 2023

Fray, R. F. (1995) More Multiple-Choice Item Writing Dos and Don’ts, ERIC/AE Digest  Accessed 13th March 2023

Questions about or problems with Moodle Quiz or ExamSys?  Raise a call with the Learning Technology Self Service centre, choosing the Moodle/ExamSys option.

Posted in AssessmentE-assessmentExamSysLearning design