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Techniques for Writing Multiple-Choice Items that Demand Critical Thinking

Premise - Consequence

Students must identify the correct outcome of a given circumstance.

Example: If nominal gross national product (GNP) increases at a rate of 10% per year and the GNP deflator increases at 8% per year, then real GNP:

a) Remains constant.
b) Rises by 10%.
c) Falls by 8%.
d) Rises by 2%.

Note: To increase the difficulty, provide more than one premise.



Students must map the relationship between two items into a different context:

Example: E-mail is to an unmoderated listserv as office hours are to:

a) Class lecture.
b) Class discussion.
c) Review sessions.
d) Tutorials.


Case Study

A single, well-written paragraph can provide material for several follow-up questions.


  1. Alice, Barbara, and Charles own a small business: the Chock-Full-o-Goodness Cookie Company. Because Charles has many outside commitments and Barbara has a few, Alice tends to be most in touch with the daily operations of Chock-Full-o-Goodness. As a result, when financial decisions come down to a vote at their monthly meeting, they have decided that Alice gets 8 votes, Barbara gets 7, and Charles gets 2-with 9 being required to make the decision. According to minimum-resource coalition theory, who is most likely to be courted for their vote?

    a) Alice
    b) Barbara
    c) Charles
    d) No trend toward any specific person.

  2. In the scenario in question 1, according to minimum-power coalition theory, who is most likely to be courted for their vote?

    a) Alice
    b) Barbara
    c) Charles
    d) No trend toward any specific person.


Incomplete Scenario

Students must respond to what is missing or needs to be changed within a provided scenario. Note: when using a graph or image, try to lay it out differently than how the students have seen it. This is equivalent to using new language to present a familiar concept and prevents students from using rote memorization to answer the question. For example, the diagram below may originally have been split left to right instead of top to bottom, and this diagram may not be as detailed as the diagram they saw in the book.)

Example: Use the diagram below to answer the following questions.


  1. What belongs in the empty box in the upper right corner of the diagram?

    a) Hardware devices
    b) Client Services for Netware
    c) Logon Process
    d) Gateway Services for Netware

  2. If the Applications resided below the heavy black line, they would:

a) be open to hackers on the network.
b) compete with the OS for memory.
c) be preemptively multi-tasked.
d) launch in individual NTVDMs.


Problem/Solution Evaluation

Student are presented a problem and a proposed solution. They must then evaluate the proposed solution based upon criteria provided.

Example: A student was asked the following question: "Briefly list and explain the various stages of the creative process."

As an answer, this student wrote the following:

"The creative process is believed to take place in five stages, in the following order: orientation, when the problem must be identified and defined, preparation, when all the possible information about the problem is collected, incubation, when no solution seems in sight and the person is often busy with other tasks, illumination, when the person experiences a general idea of how to arrive at a solution to the problem, and finally verification, when the person determines whether the solution is the right one for the problem."

How would you judge this student' s answer?

a) EXCELLENT (all stages correct in the right order with clear and correct explanations)
b) GOOD (all stages correct in the right order, but the explanations are not as clear as they should be)
c) MEDIOCRE (one or two stages are missing OR the stages are in the wrong order, OR the explanations are not clear OR the explanations are irrelevant)
d) UNACCEPTABLE (more than two stages are missing AND the order is incorrect AND the explanations are not clear AND/OR they are irrelevant)