Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) can work well for recall

Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) are very frequently used in online learning, as they’re simple to create and can be automatically marked. This convenience tends to mean they’re over-used, resulting in shallow learning experiences:

  • They tend to test recognition rather than recall – all you have to do is recognise the right answer, and that’s a lot easier and requires much less cognitive effort than recalling for yourself.
  • The fact that you have one-in-three chance of getting the right answer just by guessing further devalues them.

However, they can be made more effective if they’re written in such a way as to enforce recall and reflection and therefore create opportunities for much deeper learning. For example:

  • Rank the wrong answers in order of ‘wrongness’
  • Give (or choose) a reason why each wrong answer is wrong
  • Suggest why someone would be likely to choose each wrong answer
  • Rewrite the question to make each wrong answer the correct answer
  • Link each answer to something previously studied
  • Link each answer to something in your real life