How to Write Good Test Questions

Writing a test question is the easiest thing in the world.

  • The statement is true.
  • The statement is false.

Whichever option you chose, you are right. Writing test questions is easy; however, writing good test questions is much more difficult than you would think. In today’s adult education, the most widespread form of knowledge evaluation are self-assessment and/or exam tests.

There are several reasons why tests are so popular:

  • They are easy to assess
  • They are easily used for summaries and statistics
  • Compiling (a bad) test requires no special knowledge, either methodological or technical

Discussing the real effectiveness of test in the assessment process would call for an entire post; however, due to the popularity of this form of evaluation, now we will focus on how to compile a test in a way that the results and the actual knowledge of the learner will be as close as possible.

Here are some ground rules worth sticking to:

  1. Don’t just make students recall what they’ve learnt – it is not a memory game. The test result can be misleading even for the student if they answer simply requires the recognition of the right answer from the options. To avoid this, try to ask questions where the learner has to interpret, evaluate and use data and facts. For example, it may be useful to apply the new knowledge to a concrete situation.
  2. For practice tests, an adaptive approach can be very useful. Adaptivity means that the difficulty of the questions increases gradually with the number of correct answers. Unfortunately, however, only few curriculum development tools allows for this option.
  3. When compiling a test, always keep in mind the original learning objectives: ask what you wanted to teach.
  4. The question should be clear and to the point. Avoid any text that have nothing to do with the solution.
  5. Even the wrong answers must be plausible. Their wording and language should match the correct answer. You can come across tests quite often where the wrong answers are humorous or clearly incorrect. Such answers might be useful in the warm-up phase of the training, but under no circumstances should they be used in assessment tasks.
  6. The incorrect answers should be of the same length as the correct ones. It is not very practical to give one word as an incorrect answer and a whole paragraph, explaining the topic in detail, as the correct one.
  7. And on that note… do not use multiple sentence answers, unless the test aims for assessing text comprehension skills.
  8. Avoid adding extra explanations to the correct answer, as this will most likely give unnecessary help for the respondent.
  9. Avoid using questions where there is a missing word in the text and the learner has to choose the correct one from the answer options. This type of question is much more demanding for the learner cognitively.
  10. The order of the answers should be generated randomly instead of “b” or “c” being the most often correct. If there is no way to do this, then the completed test should be reviewed and the order of the answers needs to be changed where necessary.
  11. Avoid answers like ‘the statement is true/false’, ‘none/all of the above’, etc. Be more creative! It is still better to have fewer questions than to have a test full of redundant ones.
  12. Avoid trick questions. They might seem like a good idea at first, but our goal is to assess the knowledge of the learner and not their ability to answer trick questions.
  13. An on that note: the incorrect answers should not differ from the correct ones in just one or two words. The test should not be like a find-the-difference game.
  14. Avoid negative questions if possible. If they must be used, always emphasize the negatives by putting them in uppers case or bold (e.g.: ‘Which one of them is NOT a breed of dog?’
  15. Avoid repeating the same topic through multiple questions, as one question might include the answer to another one.


Designing Multiple-Choice Questions. (2017, June 27). Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Malamed, C. (2019, September 16). 10 Rules For Writing Multiple Choice Questions. The ELearning Coach.

Mcdaniel, R. (2021, December 7). Writing Good Multiple Choice Test Questions. Vanderbilt University.