How to write assessment questions that don’t suck

Dictionary definition of persuasionGUEST POST BY NATASHA REDDROP

Everyone knows that writing interactive eLearning questions, and especially assessment questions, can be a bit of a strain.

It’s difficult to come up with questions that can easily be answered in an eLearning format, i.e. that are simply and objectively right or wrong, with no need for an instructor to ‘grade’ them.

And it’s hard to provide variety in the way you structure the questions.

However, if you want your learning experience and/or assessment to have integrity, it’s worth spending some effort to become proficient in this area.

Here are some tips to help you out:

1. Make sure that the answer has actually been available to the learner somewhere in the module.

A common mistake that people with little or no L&D experience make is to create questions based on what they think should be common sense.

However, often the person writing the content, the subject matter expert, has a very different idea of ‘common sense’ from the novice who is participating in the eLearning!

It’s really important that any questions are based directly on material found in the module. Otherwise, you’re not assessing someone’s learning – you’re assessing their other knowledge, or their ability to guess.

2. In multiple choice questions, keep the tone consistent across all the answers.

A problem I often see with multiple choice answers is that all the wrong options are written in a casual, sloppy kind of tone, while the correct answer is written in a formal, corporate kind of tone.

This is a dead giveaway.

You don’t even have to have completed the learning material to answer these kinds of questions correctly.

Same goes for sentence length. If all your incorrect options are short, and your correct option is long, it will stand out as the obvious choice.

Here’s an example…

The emergency alarm has sounded and an announcement than a building evacuation exercise is taking place and you should prepare to evacuate the building. What do you do?

a) Nothing – it’s just a drill
b) Pack up your desk and get your essential items and await further direction
c) Take the lift down and grab a coffee
d) Tell the fire warden you are not participating

In this example, it’s pretty obvious from the tone and the sentence length that the second option is the correct one.

3. Try to make each option in a multiple choice plausible.

Have a really obviously wrong option is just a waste of an option.

You want to challenge people to think back to what they’ve learned, not have them use the power of deduction to eliminate answers which are clearly not correct.

Spending the time to come up with a list of options that are plausible is worthwhile to create a challenging question.

Sometimes, having a couple of similar options (but each with one key difference) is a good way to do this.

4. Put some variety in your question styles.

Multiple choices are easy in eLearning build terms, but they can get a little boring.

Can you switch things up a bit?

Maybe have a drag-and-drop, with two columns?

Or even just a multi-choice where there is more than one correct answer?

“Pick all the options that apply” is a good challenge because the learner may select two correct options when there are actually three, for example.

I strongly believe that getting an answer wrong is a better learning experience than getting it right. (I still remember the one answer I got wrong in my driving learner’s test, which I took nearly 24 years ago!)


The goal when you’re writing assessment questions is to create a test that is fair and objective, and that actually assesses the important parts of the learning.

A great way to check the effectiveness of your questions, after they’ve been in use for a while, is to look at the answer stats for each question.

If every learner gets a particular question right, it might be too easy (or obvious).

If every learner gets a particular question wrong, it’s probably too hard! It’s not simple or quick to write really good assessment questions, but it’s critical if you want your eLearning to be taken seriously.

If you’ve got any other tips for writing assessment questions I’d love to hear about them in the comments…

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About the author

Photo of blog author Natasha ReddropNatasha Reddrop is a learning & development professional with fifteen years’ experience. She runs a business writing consultancy (Grammar Debugged) which offers training and support to help people improve their writing skills. She also specialises in instructional design for both eLearning and other learning formats. Find out more about Natasha on LinkedIn…