Designing and Evaluating Multiple-Choice Items

Student assessment data are only as good as the assessments from which they come. Data-literate educators are skilled at designing and evaluating assessments that allow for less-biased inferences about what students know and are able to do
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

Multiple-choice items are powerful assessment tools because they enable educators to assess large amounts of content efficiently and reliably. Given the power and prevalence of multiple-choice items, data-literate educators are skilled at writing and evaluating these item types.

Method Components

When writing and evaluating multiple-choice items, data-literate educators do the following things:

  1. Base the item on a goal for student mastery.
  2. Organize and format the items such that:

a) Items are numbered and response choices are each associated with a letter.

b) The stem is at the top of the item (as opposed to on the side, for example).

c) Images associated with the stem are above the text of the stem.

d) Choices are aligned vertically beneath the stem.

  1. Frame stems positively.
  2. Include the right amount of information in stems.
  3. Always use the same number of choices across items—four or five for most grade levels.
  4. Include only ONE correct answer.
  5. Make distractors plausible and free of tricks.
  6. Create choices that are consistent in form, content, and length.
  7. Order choices logically.
  8. Avoid using “all of the above” or “none of the above.”

These recommendations for strong multiple-choice item design align with best practices documented in the literature and are further explained in “Rules for Multiple Choice Item Design” ( ,published by the Relay Graduate School of Education.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Burton, S.J., Sudweeks, R.E., Merrill, P.F., & Wood, B. (1991). How to prepare better multiple-choice items: Guidelines for university faculty. Brigham Young University Testing Services and The Department of Instructional Science.
  • Haladyna, T.M. (1989). Validity of a taxonomy of multiple-choice item-writing rules. Applied Measurement in Education, 2(1), 37–50.


  • Relay Graduate School of Education. (2013). Rules for Multiple Choice Design. Unpublished manuscript,

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

To earn the micro-credential Designing and Evaluating Multiple-Choice Items, you must submit five multiple-choice items. Of the five items, three must be self-designed; the remaining two should be procured from another source (such as a textbook, state test, or other source). Annotate each self-designed item to explain how it meets the standards for high-quality multiple-choice design; the optional Relay template ( may be helpful for submitting and annotating the items. Evaluate the procured items for their adherence to these standards. The procured items may or may not meet the standards for high-quality multiple-choice design; what is more important is that they are correctly evaluated.

Your artifact submission will be assessed on the following rubric. You must earn a (3) Proficient or (4) Exemplary score to earn the micro-credential.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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