Assessing Higher-Order Outcomes using Multiple-Choice Questions

Well-designed multiple-choice questions (MCQs) can be easily administered online through CourseLink’s Quizzes tool. Although many MCQs are recall questions targeting lower-order cognitive domains, well-designed MCQs can also assess higher-order skills such as analysis and synthesis. By writing MCQs that assess higher-order learning outcomes, MCQs can be an effective online alternative assessment strategy in many courses across most disciplines.

The following guidelines will help you craft effective MCQs at several cognitive levels. For more information, contact an Educational Developer in the Office of Teaching and Learning.

How to Write MCQs that Assess Higher-Order Thinking

(e.g., application and analysis)

 

  • Present novel material
    • Paraphrase lecture or textbook material to avoid testing for recognition
  • Use verbs matched to Bloom’s levels
    • Explain -> What is the most accurate explanation for these symptoms?
    • Describe -> What is the best the best description of this theory?
  • “Flip” the question – instead of listing a concept and asking the student to choose the correct definition, provide a scenario that demonstrates the concept and ask the student to choose the correct concept

Source: Scully, D. (2017). Constructing multiple-choice items to measure higher-order thinking. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 22(4). Available online: http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=22&)

 

  • Present a clinical vignette, scenario, graph, table, chart, poem, or other visual or textual information
    • “Context-dependent” questions that include vignettes, scenarios, or other information require students to recall and synthesize information

 

Sample Clinical Vignette:

A 28-year-old primigravid woman is at 11 weeks’ gestation. Medical history is unremarkable. Family history is unremarkable except that both of her brothers have intellectual developmental disorder, her mother died of breast cancer at age 55, and her father is estranged. No family health records are available.

Which of the following studies is appropriate?

  1.   Amniocentesis for α-fetoprotein

  2.   Blood test for fragile X carrier status

  3.   Blood test for phenylketonuria carrier status

  4.   Chorionic villus sampling for chromosome analysis

  5.   Chorionic villus sampling for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy

 
(Source: Scully, D. (2017). Constructing multiple-choice items to measure higher-order thinking. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 22(4). Available online: http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=22&)

 

Sample Context-Dependent STEM Question:

In the diagram below, parallel light rays pass through a convex lens and converge to a focus. What type of lens can be placed at what location to make the lines parallel again?

  1.   A concave lens at point B

  2.   A concave lens at point C

  3.   A second convex lens at point A

  4.   A second convex lens at point B

 
(Source: https://www.mcgill.ca/skillsets/files/skillsets/mcq_handout3.pdf)

 

Sample Context-Dependent Social Sciences Question

Consider the question, "What is meant by the charge that utilitarianism is too demanding?" Now suppose the following answer is given: "Utilitarianism requires moral people to respond to important moral concerns such as helping the less fortunate, while allowing immoral people to pursue their careers, family lives, and personal projects." What is wrong with this answer?

  1.   Nothing - that answer is correct.

  2.   It falsely describes what utilitarianism requires of moral people.

  3.   It falsely describes what utilitarianism allows of immoral people.

  4.   It relies on a false dichotomy between moral people and immoral people.

 
(Source: https://www.mcgill.ca/skillsets/files/skillsets/mcq_handout3.pdf)

 

For more information on creating effective multiple-choice questions please see the document attached below.

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