Online computerised tests

Advice and resources on designing and using online computerised tests.

Many people equate online tests and quizzes with multiple choice questions (MCQs), but this does not have to be the case. There are also ways to design multiple choice questions so that they become much more challenging than merely picking one option from four or five at random and hoping for the best.

What are the benefits of online testing?

Information Services provide some helpful information on the benefits of computer aided assessment.

Writing effective questions

Writing effective MCQs is the topic of many workshops and guides. This booklet written for UK higher education also describes some different types of question.

Designing effective objective tests

Similar points are revised in this interactive version, which also illustrates another way to use an online quiz tool. It uses the free tool called Quandary.

Quandary multiple choice questions

More information on Quandary software

Question styles to test higher order skills

Assertion-reason questions

This style of multiple choice question can be used to explore cause and effect and identify relationships.

They consist of a question stem formed from two statements, an assertion and a reason, usually linked by "BECAUSE". Each statement has to be evaluated. The answer options are always the same.

Example: Assertion: In an elastic collision between two bodies, the relative speed of the bodies after collision is equal to the relative speed before the collision.


Reason: In an elastic collision, the linear momentum of the system is conserved.

(a) Assertion is True, Reason is True; Reason is a correct explanation for Assertion (b) Assertion is True, Reason is True; Reason is NOT a correct explanation for Assertion (c) Assertion is True, Reason is False (d) Assertion is False, Reason is True (e) Both Assertion and Reason are False

Source : Question adapted from Physicsplus blog

Multiple response questions

For these questions students have to determine whether each statement is true or false, rather than seeking a single correct answer. If scored as one unit, a question with five options for answers has only a 3% chance of being guessed correctly.

Often the question might consist of a scenario or a set of data followed by a series of statements.

Example: a 45-year-old asthmatic woman who has lived all her life in Glasgow presents with a goitre of 4 years duration and clinical features suggestive of hypothyroidism. Likely diagnoses include:

a. Iodine deficiency b. Dyshormonogenesis c. Drug-induced goitre d. Thyroid cancer e. Auto-immune thyroiditis

Source: Bull, Joanna and Colleen McKenna. Blueprint for computer-assisted assessment (RoutledgeFalmer, London, 2004)

Questions which test application, not recall

It is sometimes possible to rewrite a question which originally tested recall of knowledge, so that instead it also tests the student’s ability to apply that knowledge.

Example: Original Question: the dose of intravenous heparin should be adjusted to maintain a client’s activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) at how many times the control?

A. Less than 1.5 B. Between 1.5 and 2.5* C. Greater than 2.5 and less than 3.5 D. Between 3.5 and 4.5

Rephrased Question: a client who is receiving intravenous heparin has an activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT) of 2.5 times the control. Which of these actions would be appropriate for a nurse to take?

Call the lab for a stat repeat of the test Discontinue the client’s heparin infusion immediately Continue to monitor the client* Alert the blood bank to have a unit of packed cells available

Source: McDonald, Mary E. The Nurse Educator’s Guide to Assessing Learning Outcomes, 2nd Edition (Jones and Bartlett, 2006)

Highly interactive assessments

The TRIADSystem is designed to facilitate the creation of highly interactive tests suitable for effective computer delivered training and assessment of higher level skills coupled with flexible and informative feedback to students and trainees.

Of course the effort required to author questions is non trivial, but the results are impressive. There is a working demonstration including a wide variety of question styles on the TRIADS website.