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As an instructional designer, I find that one of the most challenging parts of my job is not conducting research, finding resources, or developing a structured curriculum, but rather writing effective questions that truly measure knowledge, assess skills, and reinforce the learning experience.

Creating test questions takes time and practice, whether you are writing for the classroom or an e-learning environment, or you are composing a pre-test, quiz, test or other type of assessment. Here is a list of basic Do’s and Don’ts for writing questions:

  1. Write uestions that are derived directly from the course objectives. After all, the objectives drive the course content. Objectives state not only what the course must cover, but also what the learners will be able to accomplish after course completion.
  2. Write questions that test knowledge comprehension and behaviors, not just recall. When answering questions, learners should be asked to interpret facts and evaluate situations, not just to remember facts and figures.
  3. When writing multiple choice questions, make all the distracters plausible. While this can be difficult, avoid easy, “give-away” distracters. They take away from the test’s purpose, which is to ensure the learners actually comprehended the content from the course. Choices that are true, but not necessarily plausible for the question, are good distracters.
  4. On the same note, never use “All of the above” or “None of the above,” either. Neither of these types of answers tests if the learners really know the correct answer.
  5. Do not use double negatives in questions. Avoid using combinations of the following words in a question: not, no, nor, etc. For example, a question like, “Which of the following tools are NOT uncommon on a construction site?” could confuse learners. Instead, write questions in a positive form, such as “Which of the following tools are common on a construction site?”
  6. When writing fill-in-the-blank or completion questions, ask for answers that can be scored definitively and objectively. It is better to ask for answers that are single words or short phrases to eliminate confusion or wordy answers, especially when using online test software that is automatically scored.
  7. Don’t forget about feedback! Whether the learner answers questions correctly or incorrectly, always provides constructive feedback to reinforce the answers, and ultimately, the course content.