Have you ever wondered whether or not your multiple-choice questions (MCQs) are too easy? The answer to this question can be found in the p-values or item difficulty: the percentage of students who answered correctly. The difficulty of a MCQ can range from 0.00 to 1.00; the higher the p-value, the easier the question. What we should be concerned with are high difficulty questions with p-values less than 0.3.

Have you ever wondered which questions tricked students who otherwise performed well on a test overall? The R-value or item discrimination looks at the relationship between how well students performed on a question and their total score. Item discrimination indicates students who know the tested material and those who do not. The higher the R-value, the more discriminating the test question. We should try to remove questions on the test with discrimination values (R-values) near or less than 0.3. This is because students who did poorly on the test did better on this question than students who performed better overall.

Did you Know?

Multiple-choice questions that use words in the stem such as best, most, first, or most correct require higher-level thinking but often confuse students because they are ambiguously worded. Our students have struggled lately with ambiguity in the wording of MCQs on RATs and exams such as “Which is the most likely….”. They assume “most likely” to be “most common”, whereas the most likely answer could be an uncommon situation. It’s important to word the question clearly so that students are not confused. So for example, the question could state, “In light of the clinical information provided above, which diagnosis would you make?

You can also ask students about “most common”, “most concerning”, or “what is the first test you would perform” etc. but it is always good to anchor these stems by referring to the data presented previously. Then the key is to require them to choose, evaluate, interpret, judge, infer from data, solve problems, and apply principles.

Did you Know?

The Student Assessment Committee has posted several articles, checklists and PowerPoint slides to assist you with Multiple Choice Questions.

For more guidance on writing high-quality multiple-choice questions refer to MCQ Guidelines and Writing MCQ’s in School of Medicine Faculty and Staff Resources at:






Queen’s School of Medicine: Faculty and Staff Resources.