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  1. Start with learning goals. Stick to the material that you told students they should know and the skills they should be able to show. Your primary goal is much more than keeping them busy the entire exam period.
  2. Test a variety of skills. Go ahead and ask some fact questions, but recall is probably not the only skill you’re after. Find out if students can solve a new problem or analyze an unfamiliar situation.
  3. Collect note cards. Put a few 3 x 5 cards in your pocket on the way to class. Before you leave the room write down possible test questions with correct answers and good distracters. It’s best to set aside multiple sessions for test-writing.
  4. Have 3-5 options per question. Avoid true-false; two answers give students a 50-50 chance. Three options are fine if you can only think of two good distracters. You don’t need the same number of options for every question.

  5. Photo “Friday….. Test….”
    by herbarium_gnome / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

  6. Be positive but not absolute.Questions and answers with negatives (“which of the following is NOT …”) can be unnecessarily confusing. Students know that answers with absolutes (always, never, etc.) are usually distracters.
  7. Avoid combinations. “All of the above” and “Both A & B” are helpful to guessers. Avoid “None of the above” unless the answer requires computation; if you must, then use it more than once.
  8. Use plausible distracters. Funny or implausible options waste the test-takers’ time and break their concentration. Try basing distracters on common mistakes that students make.
  9. Watch out for clues. An option with a grammar error is probably wrong. Two options with the same meaning are usually both wrong. The single option that is longer, more detailed, or more complex is probably correct.
  10. Avoid undue complexity. Your goal is not to trick the students. Make your questions concise, leaving out superfluous information. You may want to emphasize important words using boldface or italics.
  11. Keep track of good questions (rewrite or lose bad ones). When grading, mark down how many people choose each answer. If everyone gets a question right, it’s probably too easy. A particular wrong answer that no one selects is not a good distracter.

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