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Effective Stem Construction for Multiple-Choice Questions

assessments training Oct 26, 2023

Employee training is a critical aspect of business success. It helps ensure your team has the necessary skills and knowledge to excel. However, the effectiveness of your training program hinges significantly on how you assess employee learning. An effective means of evaluation is through multiple-choice questions. A key component of these questions is the 'stem', or the part that poses the question or problem.

Understanding how to construct effective stems can significantly enhance the quality of your assessments. Let's explore what makes a good stem and how to improve the ones you're using.

Understanding the Stem
The stem is the initial part of a multiple-choice question, presenting the situation or question. An effective stem is clear, concise, and directly linked to your training objectives. It is crucial to ensure that your stems adequately test the desired knowledge or skills.

Constructing Effective Stems
Poorly constructed stems can be confusing, overly complicated, or irrelevant to the training content. Let's look at three examples related to a customer service training program that illustrate the progression from poor to quality question stems.

  • Poor: Customer service is...? (Vague)
  • Better: Which of the following best describes good customer service? (Clear, Direct)
  • Best: A customer approaches you with a complaint about a product. What is the first step in providing excellent customer service? (Scenario-based, Direct)

In the first example, the stem is ambiguous, which could lead to confusion. The second example is more direct and clear. The third example is not only clear, but also provides a realistic scenario to assess practical understanding and application.

  • Poor: Customers are always... (Biased, Assumptive)
  • Better: According to the training, customers typically prefer... (Neutral, Direct)
  • Best: A customer expresses dissatisfaction with the long wait time. According to our customer service principles, how should you respond? (Scenario-based, Neutral, Direct)

The first example shows bias and assumes a blanket statement about customers. The second stem is improved, remaining neutral and directly tied to the training content. The third example incorporates a realistic scenario and directly tests knowledge from the training.

  • Poor: Which isn't an important aspect of our customer service model? (Negative, Confusing)
  • Better: Which is an important aspect of our customer service model? (Positive, Clear)
  • Best: A customer praises your service and wants to know more about our customer service model. Which aspect would you emphasize and why? (Scenario-based, Positive, Clear)

The first stem is negatively worded and may confuse learners. The second stem is positively worded and clearer. The last stem provides a scenario and asks for an understanding of the customer service model.

Review Your Training Assessment Questions
Here are some actions you can take to start evaluating and improving your multiple choice assessment question stems.

  • Look for Clarity. Review your stems for clarity. Avoid vague language and ensure the question is directly tied to the training objectives.
  • Avoid Bias. Keep your stems neutral and avoid leading or biased language.
  • Incorporate Scenarios. Make your stems relevant and engaging by including realistic scenarios that mirror situations employees might encounter.

An effective stem is a crucial element in constructing quality multiple-choice questions for your training assessments. By following these guidelines, we can significantly enhance our training program's effectiveness.

Haladyna, T., Downing, S., & Rodriguez, M. (2002). A Review of Multiple-Choice Item-Writing Guidelines for Classroom Assessment. Applied Measurement in Education, 15(3), 309-334.