Question Construction

Polling is most effective when questions are well constructed.  Instructors may use a variety of question types provided they do not ask an excessive number of questions per event.  Best practices suggest no more than 5 questions per lecture hour depending on the instructional activity.  In Teaching with Classroom Response Systems, Bruff (2009) identifies several question types including  factual, application,  free-response and critical thinking.  Providing 3 or 4 answer choices labeled A-D, only one of which is correct, is sufficient.   Choices should be independent and not overlap.   Instructors are encouraged keep answer choices somewhat equal in length and avoid using the “all of the above” choice.   Use of humor should be appropriate and in connection with the learning environment.  Instructors are also encouraged to proof their questions for grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization.

Well-constructed questions are:

  • Unambiguous (when possible, write the stem positively and avoid words such as NOT and EXCEPT)
  • Relevant  (connected to course concepts, rather than trivial matters unless used as warm up)
  • Succinct
  • Formatted vertically, rather than horizontally
  • Legible

Readability is especially important when questions include images, diagrams or maps.   Instructors are encouraged to test question display prior to the polling event and determine readability from the back of the classroom.    Some students may speak English as a second language.    Some students may possess visual, cognitive or learning disabilities.    Instructors are encouraged to have students confirm that questions are clear.

A few examples:

Fluid Mechanics

Chemistry
At 80 degrees centigrade, the vapor pressure of pure liquid ‘A’ is 520 mm Hg and that of pure liquid ‘B’ is 1000 mm Hg. If a mixture solution of ‘A’ and ‘B’ boils at 80 degrees centrgrade and 1 atm pressure, the amount of ‘A’ in the mixture is (1atm = 760 mm Hg):
a) 34 mol percent
b) 48 mol percent
c) 50 mol percent
d) 52 mol percent

Literature
Which stage direction from the passage best reveals insight into the main character’s personality?
A. “She rises from the chair.”
B. “…as she walks toward the door.”
C. “…with a certain solemnity.”
D. “She turns and recites the words.”

Consultations on question construction are available by contacting acadtech@cornell.edu

Also, see our recommended Best Practices.

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