Questions Used in Tests

The Types of Questions Used in Tests: Advantages and Disadvantages

It is worth taking a regular look at the benefits and downsides of the types of questions that are widely used in tests these days and at the question banks they now often come from.

Multiple-Choice Type Questions


  • These are easy and quick to score, either electronically or manually.
  • Possible to write them so that they evaluate a broad range of skills, including high-level thinking ability.
  • Possible to write them so that one test covers a lot of subject matter but can still be answered in-class time.


  • Frequently designed to test a student’s skills in literacy e.g. if the questions are read carefully, it is easy for the student to recognize the answers even if he or she does not know much about the subject matter.
  • Gives students who are not very well prepared the opportunity to take a guess at the answer. Therefore, if their guesses are correct, they are given credit for knowledge they have not got.
  • Can expose the student to incorrect information, which may subsequently influence their thinking about a given subject.
  • It takes time and considerable skill to develop test questions, particularly good-quality questions.

True or False Type Questions


  • Are easy and quick to correct.


  • Thought to be a very unreliable type of assessment.
  • Frequently, questions are crafted so that the most part is true except for a single small and trivial fact that makes the entire statement false.
  • Encourages guesswork, and rewards it.

Short Answer Type Questions


  • Easy and quick to write.
  • Easy and quick to correct.


  • Encourages the students to memorize details and terms, which means their understanding of a subject area does not progress beyond the superficial.

Essay Type Questions


  • Provides a number of different ways for students to showcase their knowledge and skills.
  • Is a good way of developing the writing skills of the student, especially the skills to develop well-reasoned and soundly supported arguments.


  • Requires a lot of time to evaluate and grade.
  • Tends to make the criteria the student uses to develop answers subjective.
  • Tends to require fast writing with little time for revision or planning when used as class assignments. This can negatively impact writing quality.

Questions that Come from Test Banks


  • Reduces or eliminates the amount of time, effort, and energy that tutors usually have to invest in developing exam questions.
  • Mostly use the same methods and terms found in related textbooks.


  • Seldom includes much evaluation, synthesis, analysis, or application (research shows that around 85 percent of test bank questions test the participant’s recall abilities).
  • The scope of tests is often limited to the content of the text. Can lead students to believe that material taught in class is irrelevant or not important.

While it is easy to think the above question types are the only ones, there are other interesting variants. This article suggests one that begins with a question that should be revised and the answer provided in the short form e.g. a single word or phrase. This one question should not offer any optional answers, but it should be accompanied by an alphabetical list of possible answers. The student then selects an answer from the list. Some answers can be reused, some are not valid, and the list contains more answer options than test questions. Essentially, this is a more sophisticated type of matching test. The test method is more challenging and it reduces the possibility of answering correctly by guesswork.

Bear in mind though that any new test format should be introduced to students prior to presenting it to them in an exam environment.

The Different Types of Online Tests and their Requirements

There are several different types of online tests, and each type requires some form of technology! The following are a few of the different types of online exams:

  1. The type has taken at home, in a school or college classroom, or at a technology resource center;
  2. Closed or open book;
  3. Timed or untimed;
  4. Scheduled or unscheduled
  5. Continual or stored and returned to be completed
  6. A component of a conventional classroom course, an online course, or a combination of both
  7. Graded or ungraded
  8. Immediately scored and returned to the student or posted at a later date.

What all these different types of tests have in common is technology. The following is a list of questions to consider if you are to master the art of taking online exams:

Your first priority should be understanding the technology and being able to use it:

  • Check that your computer is - especially if you are using a home computer - technically sound and has the right speed of Internet connection. (An advantage of using a school or college computer is that there may be a technical expert on hand to help you). Some things to check on your computer are Internet connectivity, browser options, security settings, screen or monitor display, cache, and so on.
  • Know how to log in to the test website. In the middle of an exam is not the right time to start navigating a website looking for a test or experimenting with passwords.
    • Is it possible to review all test-related instructions before starting the test?
    • Can you use your student login details or does the test require a special login to be set up?
    • Do you know the address (or URL) of the website running the test?
    • If the test is taking place in a controlled or secure environment, do you need identification? If so, what ID is needed?

If any assistance is required in order to take the test, let your tutor know in advance!

  • Read all instructions carefully when you reach the test page. This will help you manage your time and complete the test. For example:
    • Is time being tracked?
    • If it is, is there a timer or clock that allows you to keep track of your time?
    • If you get interrupted, is it possible to save your work and return to it later?
    • Do the questions need to be answered in sequential order?
    • Can the answers be altered later?
    • Does the test software have review functionality that allows you to check back on your answers or look for any questions you may have missed?
    • What happens after the test? Once you have finished answering the questions, there are a few things you need to check:
      • Do you know how to save your work and exit the system so that your answers are not deleted or lost?
      • Is the method for saving your work and submitting it the same or is there a different procedure?
      • If you have missed any questions, will you get alerted?
      • What is the method for checking your score? Can you see it immediately or do you have to access it separately?
      • Is it possible to make a hard or paper copy of your answers?
      • In the case of essay and short answer questions, can you:
        • Type your answers in a word processor and then format and copy them into the test system?

The above guidelines are designed specifically for the technological and procedural aspects of an online test. Please refer to the “Exams” page on’s website for advice on taking other types of tests.

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