Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Test Questions

Though some types of questions are quick and easy to write or score, the focus should be on student’s ability to think critically and assess how students learn the material.

Advantages by Question Type
Multiple-choice

  • Easy to score (by hand or electronically)
  • Can test higher-order thinking skills (but difficult to write)
  • Much content covered on a single exam and still be answered in a class period

True-false

  • Quick and easy to score

Short-answer

  • Quick and easy to write and grade.

Essay

  • Can demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities in various ways
  • Can help develop student writing skills

Test banks

  • Save instructors time and energy involved in writing test questions
  • Use the terms and methods in the text

Disadvantages by Question Type
Multiple-choice

  • Often tests “test taking” skills
  • Students can guess and get credit for things they don’t know
  • Expose students to misinformation that can influence subsequent thinking about the content
  • Takes time and skill to construct good questions

True-False

  • Highly unreliable form of assessment
  • Often only a trivial bit of information is false
  • Encourage guessing with reward for correct guesses

Short-answer

  • Encourage memorizing terms and details; understanding may remain superficial

Essay

  • Extensive grading time
  • Subjective criteria to assess answers
  • In-class administration can result in poor-quality writing

Test banks

  • Rarely involve analysis, application, evaluation, or creation (research documents
    about 85% of test bank questions are recalled)
  • Limit the scope of the exam to text content; class material may seem unimportant and
    irrelevant

Begin with a question and revise it until it can be answered with a word or short phrase. Devise as many questions as needed this way. Do not list any answer options for a single question, instead use an alphabetized list of answers. Students select answers from that list. Some of the answers may be used more than once, some may not be used, and there are more answers listed than questions. The approach makes the test more challenging and decreases the chance of getting an answer correct by guessing.

Remember, students must be introduced to any new or altered question format before they see it on an exam.

Adapted from Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D., in Educational Assessment