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Multiple choice

For the 1974 John Wayne crime drama movie, see McQ.

  Multiple choice questions (MCQ) or items are a form of assessment item for which respondents are asked to select one or more of the choices from a list. This type of question is used in education testing, in elections (choose between multiple candidates, parties, or policies), in market research, and many other areas.

Frederick J. Kelly is credited with creating multiple choice questions in 1914 at the University of Kansas. One of the first uses of multiple choice questions was to assess the capabilities of World War I military recruits. Test writers are often trained in Bloom's taxonomy.



There are several advantages to the multiple choice style. If item writers are well trained and items are quality assured, this can be a very effective item format.[1] First of all, if students are instructed on the way in which the item format works and the myths surrounding the assessment type are destroyed, students are found to perform better on the test.[2] 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.[3]

Multiple choice tests often require less time to administer for a given amount of material than would tests requiring written responses. Even greater efficiency can be created by use of online examination delivery software. 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 mark the given answers, test-takers are graded purely on their selections, creating a lower likelihood of teacher-student bias in the results. Finally, if test-takers are aware of how to use mark sheets and/or online examination tick boxes their responses can be relied upon with clarity.


Multiple choice tests do have disadvantages. One of these is ambiguity; 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 test allows the test taker to make an argument for their viewpoint and potentially receive credit.

In addition, even if a student has some knowledge of a question, they receive no credit for knowing that information if they select the wrong answer. However, free response questions may allow a taker to demonstrate their understanding of the subject and receive partial credit. Finally, test takers may be able to rule out answers due to infeasibility. In some cases they may even test each answer individually, especially when dealing with mathematics, thereby increasing the chance of providing a correct answer without actually knowing the subject matter. On the other hand, especially on mathematics tests, some answers are included to actually encourage the test taker to logically rule out responses. An example would be giving the equation 4x2 + bx = 3 and asking what b2 equals. The test taker should be able to eliminate all answers that are a negative number.

The use of multiple choice questions in certain educational fields is sometimes contested due to some of the negative aspects, whether actual or perceived, but the format remains popular due to its utility and cost effectiveness.

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. Some exams, such as the Australian Mathematics Competition, 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.


A factual knowledge style MCQ consists of two parts: the question and the answer options. By contrast, an applied knowledge style MCQ consists of three parts: the stem, the lead-in question, and the answer options. The stem can be a vignette or detailed description which has multiple elements to it. It is as long as necessary to ensure maximum validity and authenticity to the problem at hand. The lead-in question describes what the exam taker must do. In a medical MCQ the lead in question may ask "What is the most likely diagnosis?" or "What pathogen is the most likely cause?"


In the equation 2x + 3 = 4, solve for x.
A) 4
B) 10
C) 0.5
D) 1.5
E) 8

What is the IT superpower in India?
A) Bangalore
B) Mumbai
C) Mysore
D) Chennai

Notable tests with multiple choice sections

  • FE
  • SAT
  • AP
  • PSAT
  • GRE
  • MCAT
  • LSAT
  • IB Diploma Programme science subject exams
  • Multistate Bar Examination

See also

  • Patterns in multiple-choice tests
  • Test (student assessment)
  • UMAP
  • extended matching items


  1. ^ Item Writing Manual by the National Board of Medical Examiners
  2. ^ Lutz Beckert, Tim J Wilkinson, Richard Sainsbury (2003) A needs-based study and examination skills course improves students' performance Medical Education 37 (5), 424–428.doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2003.01499.x
  3. ^ Steven M Downing (2004) Reliability: on the reproducibility of assessment data Medical Education 38 (9), 1006–1012. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2929.2004.01932.x
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Multiple_choice". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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