Tes Maths: Pedagogy place - Multiple choice questions

What are the benefits of using multiple-choice questions in class? Tes Maths finds out

Craig Barton

Tes Maths: Pedagogy Place - Multiple Choice Questions

In this series, we dive into the realm of educational research to help you best formulate effective classroom practice

Are multiple-choice questions beneficial to our students, and how do we alleviate some of the associated risks? Let’s find out.

What does the research say?

Multiple-choice questions are a staple of most maths teachers’ classrooms, and often form a key part of low stakes quizzes and homework activities. But, how much do they actually help students?

According to Marsh et al (2007), evidence suggests that these positive benefits of the testing effect are still achieved when using multiple-choice questions. In fact, this form of question can actually help to improve future performance on non-multiple choice exams.

This is further supported by Little et al (2012). In studies, they have found that multiple-choice questions actually have an advantage over different question types. This is because they force students to justify why their selected answer is correct in comparison to the other options available.

However, multiple-choice questions are not without their flaws. In fact, there is a growing fear that offering pupils a choice of wrong answers (or lures) can actually lead them to develop misconceptions.

While it is important to note that there is some evidence that multiple-choice lures can become integrated into a subject’s more general knowledge, this tends to happen only when the misconception is pre-existing. As Marsh et al (2007) explain, “rarely did students select the correct answer on the initial test and then produce a lure on the final test. Nor were students likely to select lure A on the first test and then produce lure B on the final test”. Therefore, rather than actually causing misconceptions, multiple-choice activities simply highlight ones that were already in place.

An experiment administered by Butler and Roediger (2008) offers further reassurance. Here, subjects were presented with a multiple-choice test, before receiving immediate, delayed or no feedback. Pupils receiving some form of feedback, whether it be immediate or delayed, saw an increased proportion of correct responses on a delayed cued recall test. The implication for teachers is simple – in order to reduce any potential negative effects, ensure students are informed which answers are correct, and why.

In summary

No teaching tool is perfect, and multiple-choice questions are no exception. However, their closed nature combined with a limited number of possible responses allows teachers to quickly interpret students’ answers and carefully plan interventions in advance. For that reason alone, they will always play a prominent role in my lessons.

How can Tes help?

Formative assessment strategies, homework activities, low-stakes quizzes… Multiple-choice questions have a variety of uses. Begin to build a bank of ready-to-use questions with the help of these stimulating classroom tools.  

30 Number Starters- Multiple Choice Quizzes

30 Number Starters- Multiple Choice Quizzes

A PowerPoint with 30 multiple choice quizzes, good for AFL if you give students cards labelled a,b,c,d to wave. Ideal for KS3 and GCSE students. Includes lots of percentage work, decimals, addition, multiplication and division practise, rounding, decimals, primes, squares, HCF, LCM. Hope you fi...
Multiple Choice quizzes - GCSE maths higher

Multiple Choice quizzes - GCSE maths higher

Multiple choice quizzes to help recall knowledge through low stakes testing. Answers included. Powerpoint included for those who would like to edit any questions \*\*updated 04.06\*\* Two more multiple choice quizzes put on. Re uploaded 150517 edition due to wrong answer. Hope they are s...

Craig Barton, Tes Maths adviser

Craig is a secondary maths teacher in the North of England.


  • Barton, Craig. Mr Barton Maths Podcast - Professors Robert and Elizabeth Bjork (2017)
  • Butler, Andrew C., and Henry L. Roediger. "Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects of multiple-choice testing." Memory & Cognition 36.3 (2008): 604-616
  • Little, Jeri L., et al. "Multiple-choice tests exonerated, at least of some charges: Fostering test-induced learning and avoiding test-induced forgetting." Psychological Science 23.11 (2012): 1337-1344
  • Marsh, Elizabeth J., et al. "The memorial consequences of multiple-choice testing." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 14.2 (2007): 194-199