Multiple choice questions are best used as diagnostic questions, which are designed so that all the wrong answers give a clue to a particular misconception a student might have with the type of question. Their power lies in how quick they are to mark and, if designed properly, how quickly the exact type of misconceptions can be identified.

They can be used to assess prior knowledge to allow the teacher to better plan the lesson to meet the learning needs of all. In most subjects they are the best strategy to use as ‘hinge questions’, which is a formative assessment strategy enabling the teacher to know whether it is appropriate to move on, to briefly recap, or completely reteach, a concept before moving on… Dylan Wiliam calls this the most important decision a teacher has to make on a regular basis. They can be used as plenaries, homework and revision tools. 

Craig Barton, founder of www.diagnosticquestions.com, shows in this article how he has created a diagnostic question for Maths. Perhaps the biggest problem with diagnostic questions is the time taken to create them, however, if you are lucky enough to have a subject that has any exam board that creates multiple choice questions then you have a wealth of diagnostic questions to choose from. Searching the website can also bring up diagnostic questions created by others… Diagnosticquestions.com is a good place to start and its use is explained in much more detail below.

Thanks to the power of diagnostic questions, there are a huge number of websites, apps and strategies that have been designed to facilitate and enhance their use for teachers. Each of these have their own merits and issues and we have tried to explain the reasonings behind why one strategy might be chosen over another.