Further Evidence Favoring Three-Option Items in Multiple-Choice Tests

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This study examined the validity of an item-writing rule concerning the optimal number of options in the design of multiple-choice test items. Although measurement textbooks typically recommend the use of four or five options – and most ability and achievement tests still follow this rule – theoretical papers as well as empirical research over a period of more than half a century reveal that three options may be more suitable for most ability and achievement test items. Previous results show that three-option items, compared with their four-option versions, tend to be slightly easier (i. e., with higher traditional difficulty indexes) without showing any decrease in discrimination. In this study, two versions (with four and three options) of 90 items comprising three computerized examinations were applied in successive years, showing the expected trend. In addition, there were no systematic changes in reliability for the tests, which adds to the evidence favoring the use of the three-option test item.

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