Multiple choice
Multiple choice is a form of assessment in which respondents are asked to select the best possible answer (or answers) out of the choices from a list. The multiple choice format is most frequently used in education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

al testing, in market research
Market research
Market research is any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy...

, and in elections-- when a person chooses between multiple candidates, parties
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

, or policies. Multiple choice testing is particularly popular in the United States.

Although E. L. Thorndike developed an early multiple choice test, Frederick J. Kelly was the first to use such items as part of a large scale assessment. While Director of the Training School at Kansas State Normal School
Emporia State University
Emporia State University is a university in the city of Emporia in Lyon County, Kansas, just east of the Flint Hills.- History :...

 (now Emporia State University) in 1915, he developed and administered the Kansas Silent Reading Test. Soon after, Kelly became the third Dean of the College of Education at the University of Kansas
University of Kansas
The University of Kansas is a public research university and the largest university in the state of Kansas. KU campuses are located in Lawrence, Wichita, Overland Park, and Kansas City, Kansas with the main campus being located in Lawrence on Mount Oread, the highest point in Lawrence. The...

. The first all multiple choice, large scale assessment was the Army Alpha, used to assess the intelligence of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 military recruits.

The items of a multiple choice test are often colloquially referred to as "questions," but this is a misnomer because many items are not phrased as a question. For example, they can be presented as incomplete statements or mathematical equations. Thus, the more general term "item," is the most appropriate label. Items are stored in an item bank
Item bank
An item bank is a term for a repository of test items that belong to a testing program, as well as all information pertaining to those items. In most applications of testing and assessment, the items are of multiple choice format, but any format can be used...



Multiple choice items consist of a stem and a set of options. The stem is the beginning part of the item that presents the item as a problem to be solved, a question asked of the respondent, or an incomplete statement to be completed, as well as any other relevant information. The options are the possible answers that the examiner can choose from, with the correct answer called the key and the incorrect answers called distractors. Only one answer can be keyed as correct. This contrasts with multiple response items in which more than one answer may be keyed as correct.

Usually, a correct answer earns a set number of points toward the total mark, and an incorrect answer earns nothing. However, tests may also award partial credit for unanswered questions or penalize students for incorrect answers, to discourage guessing. For example, the SAT
The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. The SAT is owned, published, and developed by the College Board, a nonprofit organization in the United States. It was formerly developed, published, and scored by the Educational Testing Service which still...

 removes a quarter point from the test taker's score for an incorrect answer.

For advanced items, such as an applied knowledge item, the stem can consist of multiple parts. The stem can include extended or ancillary material such as a vignette
A scenario is a synoptical collage of an event or series of actions and events. In the Commedia dell'arte it was an outline of entrances, exits, and action describing the plot of a play that was literally pinned to the back of the scenery...

, a case study
Case study
A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

, a graph
A chart is a graphical representation of data, in which "the data is represented by symbols, such as bars in a bar chart, lines in a line chart, or slices in a pie chart"...

, a table, or a detailed description which has multiple elements to it. Anything may be included as long it is necessary to ensure the utmost validity and authenticity to the item. The stem ends with a lead-in question explaining how the respondent must answer. In a medical multiple choice items, a lead-in question may ask "What is the most likely diagnosis?" or "What pathogen is the most likely cause?" in reference to a case study that was previously presented.


If a=1, b=2. What is a+b?

  1. 2

  2. 3

  3. 4

  4. 10

  5. 8

In the equation , solve for x.

  1. 4

  2. 10

  3. 0.5

  4. 1.5

  5. 8

Ideally, the MCQ should be asked as a "stem", with plausible options, for example:

The IT capital of India is

  1. Bangalore

  2. Mumbai

  3. Mysore

  4. Mexico

A well written multiple-choice question avoids obviously wrong or silly distractors (such as Mexico in the example above), and All of the above or none of the above. If All of the above is used, then technically the student is correct no matter which option is selected! so - the question needs to make sense when read with each of the distractors, and with the correct answer.

A more difficult and well-written multiple choice question:
Consider the three statements:
I. Complex numbers are real
II. Real numbers are complex
III. Whole numbers are rational.
Which of the following statements are sometimes true?

  1. I only

  2. I and II

  3. I and III

  4. I, II, and III

  5. None of the above


There are several advantages to multiple choice tests. If item writers are well trained and items are quality assured, it can be a very effective assessment technique. If students are instructed on the way in which the item format works and myths surrounding the tests are corrected, they will perform better on the test. On many assessments, reliability has been shown to improve with larger numbers of items on a test, and with good sampling and care over case specificity, overall test reliability can be further increased.

Multiple choice tests often require less time to administer for a given amount of material than would tests requiring written responses. This results in a more comprehensive evaluation of the candidate's extent of knowledge. Even greater efficiency can be created by the use of online examination delivery software. This increase in efficiency can offset the advantages offered by free-response items. That is, if free-response items provide twice as much information but take four times as long to complete, multiple-choice items present a better measurement tool.

Multiple choice questions lend themselves to the development of objective assessment items, however, without author training, questions can be subjective in nature. Because this style of test does not require a teacher to interpret answers, test-takers are graded purely on their selections, creating a lower likelihood of teacher bias
Bias is an inclination to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of alternatives. Bias can come in many forms.-In judgement and decision making:...

 in the results. Factors irrelevant to the assessed material (such as handwriting and clarity of presentation) do not come into play in a multiple choice assessment, and so the candidate is graded purely on their knowledge of the topic. Finally, if test-takers are aware of how to use answer sheets and/or online examination tick boxes, their responses can be relied upon with clarity. Overall, multiple choice tests are the strongest predictors of overall student performance compared with other forms of evaluations, such as in-class participation, case exams, written assignments and simulation games.


The most serious disadvantage is the limited types of knowledge that can be assessed by multiple choice tests. Multiple choice tests are best adapted for testing well-defined or lower-order skills. Problem-solving and higher-order reasoning skills are better assessed through short-answer and essay tests. However, multiple choice tests are often chosen, not because of the type of knowledge being assessed, but because they are more affordable for testing a large number of students. This is especially true in the United States where multiple choice tests are the preferred form of high-stakes testing.

Another disadvantage of multiple choice tests is possible ambiguity in the examinee's interpretation of the item. Failing to interpret information as the test maker intended can result in an "incorrect" response, even if the taker's response is potentially valid. The term "multiple guess" has been used to describe this scenario because test-takers may attempt to guess rather than determine the correct answer. A free response
Free response
Free response is a type of question used in tests in education, workplace, and government. Most free response questions ask or require the test-taker to state a belief, opinion, or write a short essay and support it with facts, examples, or other evidence...

 test allows the test taker to make an argument for their viewpoint and potentially receive credit.

In addition, even if students have some knowledge of a question, they receive no credit for knowing that information if they select the wrong answer and the item is scored dichotomously. However, free response questions may allow an examinee to demonstrate partial understanding of the subject and receive partial credit.

Another disadvantage of multiple choice examinations is that a student who is incapable of answering a particular question can simply select a random answer and still have a chance of receiving a mark for it. It is common practice for students with no time left to give all remaining questions random answers in the hope that they will get at least some of them right. Many exams, such as the Australian Mathematics Competition
Australian Mathematics Competition
The Australian Mathematics Competition is a mathematics competition run by the Australian Mathematics Trust for students from year 3 up to year 12 in Australia, and their equivalent grades in other countries...

, have systems in place to negate this, in this case by making it more beneficial to not give an answer than to give a wrong one. Another system of this is formula scoring, in which a score is proportionally reduced based on the number of incorrect responses and the number of possible choices. In this method, the score is reduced by the number of wrong answers divided by the average number of possible answers for all questions in the test, W/(c-1) where w=number of wrong responses on the test and c=the average number of possible choices for all questions on the test. All exams scored with the three-parameter model of item response theory
Item response theory
In psychometrics, item response theory also known as latent trait theory, strong true score theory, or modern mental test theory, is a paradigm for the design, analysis, and scoring of tests, questionnaires, and similar instruments measuring abilities, attitudes, or other variables. It is based...

 also account for guessing. This is usually not a great issue, moreover, since the odds of a student receiving significant marks by guessing are very low when four or more selections are available.

Additionally, it is important to note that questions phrased ambiguously may cause test-taker confusion. It is generally accepted that multiple choice questions allow for only one answer, where the one answer may encapsulate a collection of previous options. However, some test creators are unaware of this and might expect the student to select multiple answers without being given explicit permission, or providing the trailing encapsulation options. Of course, untrained test developers are a threat to validity regardless of the item format.

Critics like philosopher and education proponent Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

, said that while the demand for dispensing and checking basic knowledge is valid, there are other means to respond to this need than resorting to crib sheets.

Despite being sometimes contested, the format remains popular due to its utility, reliability, and cost effectiveness.

Changing answers

The theory that a student should trust their first instinct and stay with their initial answer on a multiple choice test is a myth. Researchers have found that although people often believe that changing answers is bad, it generally results in a higher test score (see the so-called Monty Hall problem). The data across twenty separate studies indicate that the percentage of "right to wrong" changes is 20.2%, whereas the percentage of "wrong to right" changes is 57.8%, nearly triple. Changing from "right to wrong" may be more painful and memorable (Von Restorff effect
Von Restorff effect
The Von Restorff effect , also called the isolation effect, predicts that an item that "stands out like a sore thumb" is more likely to be remembered than other items....

), but it is probably a good idea to change an answer after additional reflection indicates that a better choice could be made.

Notable tests

  • ACT
    ACT (examination)
    The ACT is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, Inc. It was first administered in November 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist as a competitor to the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test, now the SAT Reasoning Test...

  • AIEEE in India
  • AP
    Advanced Placement Program
    The Advanced Placement program is a curriculum in the United States and Canada sponsored by the College Board which offers standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college...

    Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
    The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a multiple choice test, administered by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command, used to determine qualification for enlistment in the United States armed forces...

  • CFA
    -Science and technology:* Cfa is one of two symbols for the Humid subtropical climate under the Köppen climate classification system* cfa is the file extension for an Adobe Premiere Pro audio file...

  • CLAT
    Common Law Admission Test
    Common Law Admission Test is a centralised test for admission to prominent National Law Universities in India. The test is taken after the 12th grade for admission to graduation courses in Law. This exam was conducted for the first time on 11 May 2008. A total number of 1037 seats from seven law...

  • FE
    Fundamentals of Engineering exam
    The Fundamentals of Engineering exam, also referred to as the Engineer in Training exam, and formerly in some states as the Engineering Intern exam, is the first of two examinations that engineers must pass in order to be licensed as a Professional Engineer in the United States...

  • GRE
    Graduate Record Examination
    The Graduate Record Examinations is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for many graduate schools in the United States, in other English-speaking countries and for English-taught graduate and business programs world-wide...

  • IB Diploma Programme
    IB Diploma Programme
    The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a two-year educational programme for students aged 16–19that provides an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education, and is recognised by universities worldwide. It was developed in the early to mid-1960s in Geneva by...

     science subject exams
  • IIT-JEE in India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    , which had, until 2006, a high-stakes phase after the initial MCQ based screening phase.
  • LSAT
    Law School Admission Test
    The Law School Admission Test is a half-day standardized test administered four times each year at designated testing centers throughout the world. Administered by the Law School Admission Council for prospective law school candidates, the LSAT is designed to assess Reading Comprehension,...

  • MCAT
  • Multistate Bar Examination
  • PSAT
  • SAT
    The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. The SAT is owned, published, and developed by the College Board, a nonprofit organization in the United States. It was formerly developed, published, and scored by the Educational Testing Service which still...

    The Test of English for International Communication measures the ability of non-native English-speaking examinees to use English in everyday workplace activities.-Overview:...

  • NTSE

See also

  • Concept inventory
    Concept inventory
    A concept inventory is a criterion-referenced test designed to evaluate whether a student has an accurate working knowledge of a specific set of concepts. To ensure interpretability, it is common to have multiple items that address a single idea...

  • Extended matching items
    Extended matching items
    Extended matching items/questions are a written examination format similar multiple choice questions but with one key difference, that they test knowledge in a far more applied, in depth, sense....

  • Objective test
    Objective test
    An objective test is a psychological test that measures an individual's characteristics in a way that is independent of rater bias or the examiner's own beliefs, usually by the administration of a bank of questions that are marked and compared against exacting scoring mechanisms that are completely...

  • Test (student assessment)
  • UMAP
    UMAP may refer to:*Military Units to Aid Production*Universities medical assessment partnership*University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific...

External links

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