In the world of instructional design, a question is not just simply a question.
There are different kinds of questions, and the type of question posed depends on its intended purpose.
Are you developing “knowledge-check” questions to be interspersed within a learning module? To assess learner knowledge before they begin a course? Or are the questions meant to serve as a post-test question to review content mastery at the end of a course?
Let’s remember that a primary goal of post-test questions is to reveal if the learner gained the required knowledge from the content presented.
If the learner has not demonstrated mastery, further learning may be needed before a learner seeking certification moves on to the next step in their training. An easy example of this is medical board exams, but the same is true for passing a course for continuing medical education (CME) credit, certification as a gymnastics judge, or completing an alcohol awareness course for college freshmen.
In general, multiple-choice questions are used most frequently for post-test questions. We want to write questions that are “just right” – neither too easy nor too difficult. The 50-percent correct response rate is often called the Goldilocks Principle where half of the learners respond correctly and half get the question wrong.
When crafting post-test questions, here are some best practices to consider.
1. Remember the function of your test.
For a board review type of test (one that won’t be updated frequently), it is best to stick to asking questions drawn from core concepts and more mainstream knowledge or science and to stay away from very new science or less well-developed knowledge areas. This principle can be summed up as writing classic questions and answers. However, if your test is meant to gauge understanding of current issues and can be updated frequently, choosing to test on newer concepts will keep the test challenging.
2. Never use questions identical to course questions.
Correct answers can occur simply because the learner remembered the question, not because they truly learned and processed the concept.
3. Don’t try to trick the learner.
Avoid ambiguity, and use clear, straightforward language. Ask a specific question with a specific answer. Don’t make the learner puzzle over what is being asked, but keep your questions very focused.
4. Offer responses with the same comparative characteristic.
Don’t compare apples with oranges by mixing the information included in the possible answers. All responses should belong to the same general class or grouping; don’t mix types of knowledge or compare different aspects or characteristics. See example on 1812 below.
5. Use the same media format as the course.
If the course uses videos, photos or diagrams to teach the curriculum, include the same types of media. It wouldn’t be fair to teach with visuals and then test the learner with written descriptions, so try to use the same media formats in your post-test questions as found in the learning course.
And, if the purpose of the eLearning course is to prepare a learner/participant for a board or certification, use the same format as the board or accreditation exam.
As you can see, writing effective post-test questions for eLearning requires experience and a bit of restraint. Effective questions are not meant to confuse or trick the learner, but to thoughtfully discern true knowledge and the learner’s ability to apply that knowledge in the real world.