Have you ever written a quiz only to have some of your students come back and say the quiz wasn’t fair? Or that Number 5 was a trick question?
Here is a quiz scene from the classic movie My Cousin Vinnie, which contains a classic “trick” question. The District Attorney is trying to prove that the witness, Mona Lisa Vito, is not a qualified expert on automobiles.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Now, uh, Ms. Vito, being an expert on general automotive knowledge, can you tell me... what would the correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet, with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor?
Mona Lisa Vito: It's a bull**** question, it's impossible to answer.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Impossible because you don't know the answer!
Mona Lisa Vito: No, it is a trick question!
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Why is it a trick question?
Vinny Gambini: [to Bill] Watch this.
Mona Lisa Vito: 'Cause Chevy didn't make a 327 in '55, the 327 didn't come out till '62. And it wasn't offered in the Bel Air with a four-barrel carb till '64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top-dead-center.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Well... um... she's acceptable, Your Honor.
Here’s some advice on how you can avoid writing any bull****, oops, I mean “trick” questions.
Make sure the question is realistic—that it is something that would actually come up or happen in the workplace. Don’t fall into the mistake Trotter made: asking about something where there is no such thing. That may sound obvious, but it is worth having a colleague look over your questions to make sure.
If you write up your quiz at the end of a course development project when you are tired and in a hurry, you are at risk for cherry-picking trivial facts that are easy to write questions about. For example,
How many commands are on the Themes menu in Captivate?
The right answer to that is, “Who cares?” Knowing how many items are on a software menu is meaningless with regard to whether you can use the software successfully. Your learners know it’s meaningless. So steer away from trivia, and ask relevant, meaningful questions.
Another kind of question that gets student hackles up is an unfair question. What makes a question unfair? First and foremost: it was not actually covered in the class. Sure, it may be some kind of common knowledge that does relate to the class, but if it was not actually, explicitly covered, steer clear.
Don’t use double-negatives in your quiz questions. Here’s an example of a double-negative:
Which of these file formats is not unacceptable when importing images?
Your learners will certainly not fail to feel like you are just messing with them, to see if you can trick them into not necessarily failing to read it incorrectly. See what I mean?
Take care in writing your quiz, and you can avoid any accusation that your quiz was unrealistic, meaningless, trivial, unfair, or unclear. And that’s a good thing!
Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, certified master trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.