How to Write Effective Quiz Questions Every Time

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We’ve all written bad quiz questions.

Ones that were either way too confusing (double negatives anyone?) or so easy you could guess the answer without understanding the question.

It happens to the best of us.

But while a few bad questions may not seem like a big deal, they can have a major impact on your training; confusing your employees and skewing your results.

The good news is, writing questions doesn’t have to be a struggle.

There’s a formula to good quiz questions.

One you can use to write effective questions every time.

Multiple Choice

Over the years we’ve found that the best multiple choice questions follow a few simple rules. I’ve broken it down for you below, for both 3 answer and 4 answer questions. Just remember to randomize the answer order!

3 Answer Formula

Question
  1. Right answer
  2. Could be right answer
  3. Not as convincing answer

4 Answer Formula

Question
  1. Right answer
  2. Could be right answer
  3. Could be right answer (makes a harder question) OR could be right, but has an obvious reason it's wrong (makes an easier question)
  4. Obviously wrong/funny answer

A quick note on funny answers:

Most instructional designers will tell you to avoid funny answers. Their argument is it makes it too easy to guess the right answer. I disagree -- realistically it just turns your 4 answer question into a 3 answer one. Plus it injects some levity into your program and stops it from feeling like a middle school test.

If you’re concerned the question is too easy, just add another “could be right” answer to your quiz. Just be sure you don’t go overboard -- max number of answers should be around 5 or 6. Too many more and it gets too hard for employees to evaluate — and no one wants to read that much!

Let’s take a look at some examples.

3 Answer Question: Good Example


What is the daily fund limit new account holders can transfer using the app?
  1. $1000
  2. $1500
  3. $500

This question works because it’s not immediately clear which is the right answer. No number is too great of an outlier, making all the options seem credible.

3 Answer Question: Bad Example


Which of these is a security risk?
  1. Sharing your password
  2. Taking notes in a meeting
  3. Leaving work early

This question isn’t a great multiple choice question for a few reasons:

a. It’s very obvious that “1” is the right answer. The other answers aren’t plausible enough to make the question challenging.

b. Answer “2” is too ambiguous; taking notes of what? If they are takes notes with confidential information in them, then yes that could be a security risk — depending on what they do with those notes afterwards.

4 Answer Question: Good Example


What should you do if you suspect an email is a phishing scam?
  1. Report it to IT
  2. Delete it immediately
  3. Respond that you know it's a phishing scam
  4. Ask your co-worker what they think

Let’s look at some of the reasons this question works:

a. All the answers are around the same length, meaning your employees won’t be able to guess the answer because of its length.

b. There are at least two credible answers to this question (1 & 2) making it challenging for employees. This would be a great question to test whether employees actually know your organization’s security protocols.

4 Answer Question: Bad Example


What should you do if you suspect an email is a phishing scam?
  1. Ask your co-worker what they think
  2. Open it just to be sure
  3. Respond and ask if it is a phishing scam
  4. You should always forward suspected emails to IT then delete them from your inbox. Never open attachments, click on links, or respond to suspicious emails.

This is a bad multiple choice question for a few reasons:

a. Answer “4” is way too long. Try to keep your answers all similar lengths. People tend to look for patterns and if all your correct answers are way longer — they will notice.

b. Answer “4” sounds like it’s taken straight out of internal messaging. Try to avoid this corporate jargon — it’s a big clue to employees that this is the right answer.

True or False

Most instructional designers will tell you to avoid True or False questions because it’s too easy for employees to guess the right answer. Thus they don’t think true or false questions do a good job of evaluating employee knowledge.

However, true or false questions can be useful for testing or correcting very specific behaviours. Even if employees guess the answer, they’ll still be exposed to the correct behaviour via a feedback loop. And true or false questions can be helpful for finding group or organization wide knowledge gaps.

For example, say you asked employees if they can reset their password online without IT’s help. If they all answer “false” and the answer is actually true, you know you need to fix that knowledge gap.

And if you’re using a game-based learning program, you can compare their answer in True or False vs their answers to related questions in other modules to ensure they aren’t guessing. Or simply repeat the question multiple times.

Good Example


Holding the door open for someone visiting the office is a security risk.
TRUE or FALSE

This is a specific behaviour you can test to see if employees know appropriate protocol. And if you have a feedback loop, even if they guess they’ll still learn what the correct protocol is.

Bad Example


We serve over 200,000 customers every day.
TRUE or FALSE

For starters, it’s probably not critical your employees know this information. Secondly, the word “over” shouldn’t be in any of your eLearning questions -- it makes it obvious it’s right. This question would be better in a multiple choice format — employees aren’t going to remember the actual amount from the feedback loop.

Put ‘em in Order

Put ‘em in Order questions are great for teaching employees the proper sequence of specific events. But they can be challenging to write.

You have to make sure the items or steps are clear without being too obvious. Avoid answers with the words “Begin” “start” or “finish”  — they make the sequence too easy to complete.

You also want to limit the number of options. Don’t ask your employees to try and remember more than 10 steps to a process. Try to be as concise as possible without being vague.

Good Example

How do you open a new account for a customer?
  1. Send the request through our internal system
  2. Confirm customer details
  3. Open a request for a new client account
  4. Have the customer sign new client forms

This is a good Put ‘em in Order list because none of the options are too obvious where they belong and there aren’t too many options to keep straight.

Bad Example

How do you open a new account for a customer?
  1. Enter client details
  2. Start a new customer request in our internal system
  3. Click finish
  4. Print the completed forms and have the customer sign them

“Start” and “Finish” make this sequence way too easy to figure out. Even without knowing how to open a new account, it would be easy to figure out the correct order.

The Bottom Line

Writing good quiz questions is essential to making sure your employees get the most out of your training — and your results accurately reflect their learning.

Remember to avoid qualifiers like “over” and “up to.” Choose the right question format for your content. And use the formulas outlined above to write effective quiz questions, every time.

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