Ten Quiz Writing Tips

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This blog was originally posted on February 3rd, 2015.

Last week, I wrote about my experience using quizzes in a writing class to help students identify and (I hoped) recall key details from course readings. The low-stakes quizzes were relatively simple to manage because the textbook I was using included quizzes that I could import into our CMS. This term, however, I will have to generate my own quizzes for one course.

I began investigating the use of quizzes late last year by looking for resources on how to write effective quiz questions. Most of what I found focused on technical instructions for specific scenarios, like how to write questions in Blackboard. I was searching for something more like “A Rhetoric of Quiz Questions,” and I never did find what I was looking for. Perhaps I will have to write it myself. In the meantime, however, I have come up with these general guidelines as I read and edited the questions I was using from my textbook’s ancillary materials.

  1. Focus on information significant to comprehension of the material. Avoid questions that focus on random details, tricks, or gotchas.
  2. Write short questions rather than lengthy paragraphs.
  3. Avoid adding irrelevant details to the questions. There’s no need for the obfuscation of a Car Talk Puzzler in a reading quiz.
  4. Use the same grammatical structure for answer options (e.g., all gerunds, all nouns, all adjectives).
  5. Make sure that fill-in-the-blank answer options fit the grammar of the question. In other words, if the sentence structure requires verb to complete the sentence grammatically, the answer options need to be verbs.
  6. Distribute articles within the answer choices rather than including something like “a/an” in the question.
  7. Avoid lopsided options where one answer choice is several words longer than the others. Answer options should be approximately the same length to avoid confusing students.
  8. Choose answer options that are all plausible solutions. None of the answers should be obviously incorrect.
  9. If you use it, include “None of the above” as the LAST answer option. Logically, it has to be last.
  10. List “True” and “False” in that order. Students expect the True-False order. There’s no reason to switch the options.

In addition to those ten tips that apply to nearly all quiz scenarios, if you are working in a CMS to build your quiz, you need to keep a few more guidelines in mind:

  • Randomize the answer options when possible if you are worried about student honesty, but never randomize the answers if the options include “None of the above” and/or “All of the above.”
  • Likewise, don’t randomize the answers if the options are “True” and “False.” See #10 above.
  • Avoid any fill-in-the-blank questions where students have to type the correct answer if you want your CMS to grade quizzes automatically. Computers don’t understand spelling errors or typing inconsistencies in answers.

That’s all I have compiled so far—at least until I write that “Rhetoric of Quiz Questions” article I mentioned. Do you have tips for writing successful quizzes? Have suggestions for using test tools in a CMS? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.