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Test questions

Types of test questions, features and tips

Tests are one of the most popular tools for assessing and testing knowledge. There is a wide range of test questions that test makers can use.

Approximate reading time: 5m 6s

This article contains a brief description of 7 of the most common types of test questions, as well as tips on how to use them.

The question types are:

1) Multiple-choice question;
2) True/false question;
3) Connection question;
4) Completion question;
5) Essay;
6) Oral question;
7) Computational question.

Remember that the tests can be taken in a secure online environment in a computer lab, or given in a paper or computer version that can also be solved at home.

Multiple choice question

This type of question consists of one question and several possible answers, including one correct answer (base) and several incorrect answers (alternatives). Students usually choose the correct answer by circling the appropriate number or letter, or by filling in the corresponding box.

Example. Which is Portugal's capital?

A) Madrid
B) Lisbon
C) Lima

Answer. B.

Students answer this type of question quite quickly. As a result, these questions are used to test a wide range of knowledge. They can be time-consuming to set up because it is sometimes difficult to come up with a few wrong-sounding answers to confuse. The positive side of this type of question is that manual checking is fairly quick.

Tips for creating good multiple choice questions



In the correct answer (base) In the correct answer (base)
  • Long/complex sentences.

  • Trivial phrases.

  • Negatives and double negatives.

  • Ambiguous or indefinite terms, absolute expressions, or generalization.

  • Features that may lead to misunderstanding of the answer.    

  • Your own words - not statements taken directly from the book or textbook.
  • Clearly worded answers.

  • Correct answers evenly distributed between A, B and C.

The wrong answers (alternatives)

In the wrong answers (alternatives)

  • Statements that are too close to the correct answer.
  • Completely unacceptable answers

  • 'All of the following', 'None of the following'.

  • Overlapping answers, e.g., "If A is true...".


  • Plausible-sounding statements.

  • Answers based on common misconceptions.

  • True statements that do not answer the question.

  • Short options - all the same length.

  • At least 3 alternatives.

Suggestion: Write down two or three multiple-choice questions after each lesson based on the material presented. If you regularly take a few minutes to compose questions when you need them, you will have a wide range of already created ones that you can use for a quiz or exam.

True/false question

This type of question consists of just one statement. Students answer the questions by noting whether the statement is true or false, hence the name of the question.

For example: George Washington was the first president of the United States.

Answer. True

True/false questions are similar to multiple choice questions in that:

  • They are most often used to assess knowledge related to course material or to test popular (mis)conceptions.
  • Allow students to answer quickly and are used to test a wide range of knowledge.
  • Are easy to assess but difficult to compile.

True/false questions provide students with a 50% chance of knowing the correct answer, which is why multiple choice questions are used more.

Tips for creating good true-false questions



  • Long/Complex Sentences.

  • Trivial phrases.

  • Negatives and double negatives.

  • Generalization.

  • Ambiguous or indefinite terms.

  • Your own words.

  • One main idea in each statement.

  • Equal number of incorrect and true statements (50/50) or slightly more incorrect statements (60/40)-students tend to respond more with a "true" answer.

Suggestion: You could increase the usefulness of this type of question by having students correct the incorrect statements.

Connection question

Students answer this type of question by connecting pairs (words, phrases) from 2 different groups that have a meaningful relationship between them. In general, these questions are easy to compose and grade, but take longer to solve than the previous two types of questions.

For example: Match the literary titles with their authors:

  • To Chicago and Back - Aleko Konstantinov
  • Ivan Vazov - The Shipka Apostles
  • By Harvest - Elin Pelin

Tips for creating good linking questions



  • Long expressions.

  • Heterogeneous content (e.g. dates related to people).

  • Answers that sound unacceptable.

  • Short answers.

  • Clear guidelines.

  • Logically ordered alternatives (in chronological or alphabetical order).

Suggestion: You may use some alternatives more than once, thus reducing the likelihood of random guessing.

Question for completion

This type of question contains a statement that implies a short word as an answer, to be completed by the student. They are usually used to test background knowledge, facts and terms.

For example: Water has ......... aggregate states. It boils at ....... degrees Celsius.

Completion questions have many advantages. Many question makers claim that they are easier to compose than multiple choice questions. Unlike the other types of questions we've presented so far, completion questions make it difficult for students trying to guess the correct answer. This, in turn, makes assessment more difficult as it makes it more subjective in some cases.

Tips for creating good completion questions



  • Platitudes.

  • Long/complex sentences.

  • Leaving too many blanks so that the sentence loses its meaning.

  •  Your own words

  • Specific problems

  •  Direct and clear questions

  • Phrases or statements that leave out one or two words at the end

Question essay

An essay is a complex question requiring a written response, ranging in length from a few sentences to several pages. They allow students to express their opinion and understanding of an issue, as well as show creativity, while making it difficult to arrive at an acceptable answer without prior preparation. Creating such questions is a relatively quick process, but checking and marking take much longer and involve a great deal of subjectivism.

Essay questions differ from extension questions in that they are not as structured. They are a more open-ended type of question and allow students to demonstrate an ability to handle the course material and present it in a creative way. As a result, essay questions are used to test higher levels of knowledge, such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Interestingly, students usually take longer to structure 1 answer from 5 paragraphs than 5 answers from 1 paragraph each. Most students need more time to answer the questions. During an exam, to avoid the element of panic, you can give your students a choice of 2 or more essay questions.

Tips for creating good essay questions



  • Complex, ambiguous wording of questions.

  • Questions that are too general

  • Own words.

  • Words like "compare" or "juxtapose" at the beginning of the question.

  • Clear and unambiguous words.

  • Breakdown of assessments so students are not left with wrong expectations.

  • Time limit for thinking and writing.

Suggestions: Circulate the possible essay questions before the exam as well as the marking criteria. This way students will have an equal chance to prepare and their answers will be better.

Oral question

Oral questions allow students to respond directly to the examiner's questions, or to defend an already developed written response. This type of exam is extremely popular for language courses that "require" speaking, but can be used to check understanding in almost any course.

One of the advantages of these types of questions is that they allow students to know their results almost immediately after the exam is over and help them learn new things while being tested.

Oral questions have two disadvantages: they require more time and lecturers have difficulty taking notes. Oral exams usually take about 10-15 minutes per student. As a result, they are most often used for small classes. In addition, unlike written exams, oral exams leave no written evidence of the student's knowledge. For this, examiners must take notes during the exam, and then provide students with their copies.

Calculation question

A computational question requires students to perform certain calculations to find the correct answer. This type of question can be used to test students' memory in problem solving and their ability to apply computational techniques. Most often they are asked to combine already known techniques in new ways.

Good computational questions should:

Be solved using key concepts and techniques. Before the actual exam, examinees should solve the questions themselves or ask their assistants to do so.
Include a breakdown of the marking system so students are prepared for the results.

In order to prepare students for this type of exam, you should allow plenty of time for practice.

Suggestion: Have students divide the sheet into two columns. Have them fill in the calculations in one and the assumptions and defense of the answer in the other. This way the professor will be able to easily distinguish mathematical from conceptual error and give appropriate feedback.