Have you ever opened up a learning management system to take a quiz and been unable to understand the questions?
Whether it’s vaguely worded questions, overdone slang, or 10 options for each multiple choice question, there’s a fine line between making your quiz difficult enough to ensure students studied and making it too tricky for any to ace it.
The general rule of writing a great quiz is simplicity. Don’t give your students too many choices, don’t make the questions too complicated, don’t write throwaway answers. But any good training manager knows there’s more to it than that. You’re not writing a quiz in a vacuum when you write for online training.
eLearning is a special case where students are likely to have access to the lesson materials and the internet as a whole while they take your quiz. It calls for a more nuanced and clever approach. When the answer to every question is a quick Google away, you need to consider how to really test knowledge and critical thinking.
If you want to write an excellent eLearning test—be it for onboarding, compliance, or employee training—you need some help. That’s where this list comes in.
Fifteen tips to help you write better eLearning quiz questions
1. Don’t use advanced vocabulary unless you’re specifically testing vocabulary knowledge
2. Keep your questions free from slang, humor, and cultural references
Tests age poorly, especially tests targeted at corporate training for adults.
By trying to be hip, cute, or funny, you may end up confusing and alienating students. Make sure all students can answer your questions by using the same language they encountered in their study texts and lessons.
3. Make sure each question has the same number of responses
Using the same number of responses for each question generates a feeling of consistency and comfort for the student.
Aim for four or five answers per question. Having too few makes it easy for the student to guess the right answer, while too many responses can make it confusing by encouraging overthinking and second guessing.
4. Don’t rely on true or false questions
True or false questions are the easiest to guess, and usually give away the answers in their phrasing. Don’t include more than a few per quiz.
5. Make sure the responses follow the same grammatical structure
Switching between persons, tenses, and phrasing is a recipe for confusion. Unless you’re testing your learners on grammar, it’s an unnecessary distraction from the actual content of the quiz.
6. Keep everything short
Keep your questions short, the answers short, and the quiz itself short. Your learners are trying to focus and do their best, and taking up time and brain space with long, complex questions is only going to drive down their score.
Unless you’re asking an exceptionally complex situational essay question, there’s no reason to have a multi-paragraph question. If you have a high-level concept to explain, use the space you need, but limit your explanation to the necessary information.
7. Give your students one correct answer
“All of the above” and “none of the above” reward incomplete understanding and punish students unfairly. A student might know that A and C are correct, but be unsure about B. If this student marks “All of the above,” they answered a question correctly without fully understanding the concept.
Students who are prone to overthinking are more likely to hesitate on these questions, agonizing if they really know that only one answer is right (or if any of them are right at all).
This is even worse if your tests are timed. Students who are time-conscience may see A, know it’s right, mark it down and move on, though “All the above” was technically the right answer. And slow readers suffer from needing extra time to consider every single option longer.
Leave those choices off and opt for concrete answer options instead.
8. Avoid using negatives in your questions and answers
For example, don’t use: “Which of the following is NOT a result of photosynthesis?”
Negative questions are confusing, as the student has to take an extra moment to understand what you’re asking. If you absolutely must use a negative in your question, consider writing the negative portion in capital letters or bolded text so the student doesn’t accidentally miss it.
Reminder: you want to test actual knowledge, not reading comprehension.
9. Make sure your questions and answers reflect material that’s been covered
Meet your learners where they are in their lessons. Don’t use the quiz as an opportunity to vet new information or trick them by including questions that are more advanced than the material you covered.
Students may become bewildered and wonder why they don’t know the answer, which can affect their confidence when choosing answers to the questions they do understand.
10. Give students questions that reflect the learning objectives of your course
Don’t focus on small details and random examples unless it’s what the lesson calls for. Instead, think about the big picture: what important knowledge should students come away with?
Test your learners on that instead of small details that only prove they read the lesson materials thoroughly. You need to assess what knowledge they’re walking away from the lesson with, not that they reach every single word.
11. Don’t be clever
As tempting as it can be, corporate training tests are not the time for snarky answer options, confusing wordplay, or self-indulgent complicated questions. You need to find out if your staff learned the material they need to know to effectively do their jobs, not if they can do mental gymnastics.
You should never, ever be trying to fail your learners. If you’re struggling on the test’s difficulty level, keep in mind that a test should be easy if the test taker understands the material. Up the ante with theoretical situations rather than rote memorization if you’re worried it’s still too easy.
12. Beware of ‘interlocking’ questions
Sometimes, one question on a test will give you the answer for another question. Savvy test takers know this, and will be on the lookout. After writing your material, read over each question and check for redundancies and places where questions provide hints for another.
13. Use short answer questions for topics that allow for analysis and differing opinions
Questions should be neither too vague nor too specific. They also shouldn’t assume a certain position on a philosophical or political issue. Let your students know exactly what sort of answers you’re looking for, and don’t conflate opinions and facts.
14. Consider assigning different question weights
Do you like throwing a few softballs in your quizzes? Is one question much harder than the others?
Look into your LMS or course authoring software to see if it offers an automatic question weighting feature. This lets you ensure some questions are worth more than others, and the software automatically grades the test with that in mind. No extra work for you, but a lot of added flexibility.
15. Keep your goal in mind
Is this quiz continuing education for a technical skill? Is it a certification an employee needs to obtain a promotion? Is it compliance training for HR or health and safety?
Every type of corporate training test has a different purpose. Keep this purpose in mind as you research and write your eLearning quiz questions, as it should inform what questions you ask and what material those questions cover.
Are your eLearning quiz questions excellent?
Or do you feel that they’ve fallen flat? Tell me about it in the comments below, or tweet me @CapterraHalden.
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