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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Does Educator Training or Experience Affect the Quality of Multiple-Choice Questions?

  • Author(s): Webb, EM
  • Phuong, JS
  • Naeger, DM
  • et al.

© 2015 AUR. Rationale and Objectives: Physicians receive little training on proper multiple-choice question (MCQ) writing methods. Well-constructed MCQs follow rules, which ensure that a question tests what it is intended to test. Questions that break these are described as "flawed." We examined whether the prevalence of flawed questions differed significantly between those with or without prior training in question writing and between those with different levels of educator experience. Materials and Methods: We assessed 200 unedited MCQs from a question bank for our senior medical student radiology elective: an equal number of questions (50) were written by faculty with previous training in MCQ writing, other faculty, residents, and medical students. Questions were scored independently by two readers for the presence of 11 distinct flaws described in the literature. Results: Questions written by faculty with MCQ writing training had significantly fewer errors: mean 0.4 errors per question compared to a mean of 1.5-1.7 errors per question for the other groups (P<.001). There were no significant differences in the total number of errors between the untrained faculty, residents, and students (P values .35-.91). Among trained faculty 17/50 questions (34%) were flawed, whereas other faculty wrote 38/50 (76%) flawed questions, residents 37/50 (74%), and students 44/50 (88%). Trained question writers' higher performance was mainly manifest in the reduced frequency of five specific errors. Conclusions: Faculty with training in effective MCQ writing made fewer errors in MCQ construction. Educator experience alone had no effect on the frequency of flaws; faculty without dedicated training, residents, and students performed similarly.

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