Writing Either/Or Questions

Either/Or questions are one of the simplest question types. Known as a “forced choice” question, they are frequently used to test recall. It is important to write these questions well to ensure that candidates are appropriately challenged. This article will demonstrate how to write effective either/or questions. You can create either/or questions in Surpass.

Things to think about with this question type  

Many educators feel that either/or question items are redundant in a test because students already have a one in two chance of selecting the correct answer, making it much trickier to judge their level of understanding of a topic. Below is a list of pros and cons of either/or question type for you to consider before creating your own.

  • Useful for covering large topics
  • Good for seeing how well students understand a topic
  • Useful for any idea with two reasonable responses
  • Easy to mark  

  • Easier to answer with only two options to choose between
  • Difficult to tell who has the knowledge and who selected the correct answer by chance
  • Reliability is reduced
  • Students may memorise information rather than try to understand content

As either/or question types can be so much easier to answer correctly with random selection, it is important to write good questions to improve the assessment procedure. This will ensure the questions are valid and not confusing in any way, as well as maintaining an appropriate difficulty level to challenge students.

Writing the Best Either/Or Questions

1. The statement must be absolutely true or false.
Weak example: Richard Dawkins has proved that there is no god. Strong example: Richard Dawkins has used evidence to assert that there is no god.

2. Do not state items negatively.
Weak example: The statue of liberty is not located in Africa. Strong example: The statue of liberty is located in Africa.

3. Write questions that test key content, not irrelevant details.
Weak example: It is widely believed a falling apple led Newton to formulate theories on gravity. Strong example: Newton’s law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is not directly proportional to the product of their masses.

4. Focus each question on one idea so students do not have to deal with multiple statements at once.
Weak example: John F. Kennedy was initially believed to have been shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, on the grassy knoll in 1963. His wife was in the car with him at the time. Strong example: It was initially believed that Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy.

5. Keep vocabulary simple.
 Weak example: The remuneration for turning in women believed to be witches was great. Strong example: Individuals received a large reward for turning in women believed to be witches.

6. Use original examples to keep things challenging.
Weak example: One of the ten commandments states that a man should not steal. Strong example: Zachariah is worried his neighbours will make a better trade than him in wool, so he steals a sheep. This action is in violation of one of the ten commandments.

7. Do not use “always”, “never”, “every”, “usually”, “often”, “seldom”.

8. Use more false than true statements to better assess student levels of learning.

9. Make true and false answers the same length.

10. Use popular misconceptions to test student knowledge.

11. Avoid patterning questions with TTFFTTFFTT or TFTFTFTFT.

12. To test advanced students, give new information related to the topic and test them on this. 

Note: The purpose of these articles is to provide you with general advice in the fields of assessment and testing. These articles are not intended to replace any regulations or instructions provided by your organisation, but may be used in conjunction with these materials to support the assessment process.

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To learn how to set up an Either/Or Question, visit the Either/Or section of the Surpass online Help.

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