Selected Response

Selected Response Items

The three main types of selected response items are described below. 

Multiple Choice

Students choose from a list of options – typically four, but this can vary – to correctly answer a question or complete the statement presented in the stem. One of the options is the correct answer; the incorrect alternatives are known as “distractors.” 

To construct good items that test students’ learning, instead of their test-taking ability: 

  • Write clear and concise stems
    • Describe a single problem in each stem question or statement
    • Highlight critical words such as always and all 
  • Don’t make it easy to eliminate alternatives through partial knowledge or reasoning skill
    • Make all choices consistent in length
      • Savvy test-takers will deduce that if one choice is noticeably shorter or longer than the others, it is likely the correct one. If you can’t make all options consistent in length, try for a couple long and a couple short.
  • Make all choices grammatically consistent with the stem
    • Good test-takers will know to rule out any alternatives that do not “fit” grammatically with the stem; for example, if the stem demands a plural answer but there are singular alternatives, then these are obviously distractors.  
  • Include only plausible alternatives
    • Any implausible alternative is obviously a distractor and students will know to discount it. This betters their odds of guessing the correct answer even if they do not know the correct answer.
  • Limit use of ‘all of above,’ ‘none of the above,’ and combined response options (e.g., ‘both A and B are correct’)
    • These narrow down plausible alternatives; for example, students only need to see that one of the alternatives is not right to rule out ‘all of the above.’
  • Avoid negatively worded stems that use words such as “none,” “never,” and “not”
    • A student’s ability to identify an incorrect answer is not the same as her knowing the correct answer. 


Students indicate whether a statement is true or false. 

To construct good items that test students’ learning, not their test-taking ability: 

  • Don’t give away clues in the wording of the statement
    • Avoid using absolutes(e.g., "always," "never,” and “every”) to make a statement false
      • There is almost always an exception to the rule. Strong test-takers know that a statement that posits something as absolute is likely false.
  • Use qualifying words like "usually," "often,” and “seldom” in true and false statements
    • Savvy test-takers know that qualifying words often signal true statements. Using these words in both true and false statements will help ensure that students use content knowledge rather than strategy to answer correctly.
  • Avoid including two ideas in one statement
    • Students only need to know the answer to one of the two parts to answer correctly. 
  • Avoid trivial, broad, or general statements
    •  The correct answer should require the knowledge you want to test, not common sense. 
  • Avoid negatively phrased statements
    • Considering the veracity of a negative statement forces students to reason through a confusing double-negative situation.  
  • Balance the number of true and false statements
    • This will reduce the benefit of random guessing.


Items consist of two parallel lists: one of premises, and one of responses. Students match words on one list to words on the other.  

Matching items can be used to measure students’ ability to identify relationships, including between causes and effects, or principles and scenarios to which they apply.

To construct good items: 

  • Make premises and responses homogeneous
    • For example, make all premises historical events and all responses dates, or make all premises causes and all responses effects 
  • Don’t make it easy for students to rule out answers through the process of elimination
    • Don’t make the list of premises and the list of responses the same length – or, tell students they can use the same response more than once 
  • Keep items manageable
    • Include no more than 4 – 7 items in each matching exercise
    • Place all items and responses on the same page


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