Popular Question Types and When They’re Effective.

Understanding the importance of question types in healthcare exams

The choice of appropriate question types is crucial when designing assessments to evaluate knowledge and skills in healthcare subjects.

Different types of questions test candidate’s knowledge in different ways and serve different purposes. Multiple choice questions for example enable educators to test a lot of knowledge in a short period of time, however they do not test free recall to the extent short answer questions do or higher levels of thinking and analysis like essay questions can.

The decision on question types should be guided by the assessment’s purpose, learning objectives, and the desired depth and breadth in evaluating candidates’ knowledge and skills. If exams are run digitally, the best exam software will enable you to use and mark various question types with ease.

The most common question types in healthcare exams and how they are useful

Multiple Choice Question (MCQs)

MCQs are widely-used within healthcare assessments. They present candidates with options, from which they must select the correct or most appropriate answers.

They provide a structured format that allows for the assessment of a wide range of topics, from basic medical knowledge to complex clinical decision-making.

MCQs enable efficient assessment of large amounts of content within limited time frames.  As they have a ‘right’ answer or answers and objective scoring, quick and easy marking is possible and automatic marking can be set up on systems such as Maxexam.

Whatever the type of multiple choice question, it is recommended to ensure that all answers are plausible both to force candidates to consider the context and to reflect the fact that diagnoses can be complicated in real life.

Single-Select and Multi-Select questions

These provide different options within multiple choice.

Single-select questions allow candidates to choose only one option, suited for questions with a single correct or ‘best’ answer, as well as for true/false questions and opinion scales.

Multi-select questions allow candidates to choose more than one answer, capturing more nuanced responses where several choices apply.  This type of question can be set such that candidates can select all responses they think are appropriate or that they have to select an exact number of answers – these are known as limited select questions.

Best Fit Questions and Dependent Items

Best fit questions present a scenario or a set of options, and students are required to select the most appropriate or relevant answer for each related question. In this way they are similar to single select questions. The difference is that there is usually a list of possible answers which is used for several items, but each answer can only be used once. For example, each question might ask the candidate to label different areas of the brain, but only an option that has not been used for another label can be selected.  

Dependent items are a set of related questions where the response to one item depends on the answer to a previous item.  This structure allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of a student’s knowledge and problem-solving abilities, as they must demonstrate their understanding of the interconnected concepts.

Short Answer Questions (SAQs) and Very Short Answer Questions (VSAQs)

Short answer questions and very short answer questions are formats that require candidates to provide concise, focused responses, typically ranging from a single word to a sentence. These question types are effective in evaluating a student’s understanding of specific concepts, facts, or definitions. 

There has been a marked shift towards increased SAQs and VSAQs usage as these question types rely more on the candidates subject matter knowledge, rather than their deduction capabilities which can be the case with MCQs. With the developments in exam software such as Maxexam over recent years, these types of questions can also be auto-marked, cutting down on the administration previously involved.

Multi-line Response Questions –Paragraph or essay questions

Paragraph or essay questions are open-ended, allowing students to demonstrate their depth of understanding and critical thinking. These questions typically require more extended responses, enabling students to explore and articulate their ideas in detail.

Multi-line response questions typically require manual marking, and can take some time to mark. Marking these types of question can be open to subjectivity and may be influenced by a candidate’s writing skills.

Numerical Response Questions

Numerical response questions involve providing a specific numerical answer, such as a calculation, measurement, or a statistical value. This format is useful for assessing quantitative skills and problem-solving abilities. Numerical response questions can challenge candidates to demonstrate their grasp of mathematical concepts, their ability to interpret and manipulate quantitative data, and their aptitude for applying logical, step-by-step problem-solving strategies. 

Numerical Response questions are managed on exam software in a similar way to VSAQs but only numerical values can be input.

The importance of using specialised healthcare examination software such as Maxexam

With the flexibility incorporated into Maxexam, administrators can create a vast variety of question types to suit their requirements. All the question types discussed above can be utilised, whether organisations are running written or clinical exams (or both). With automated marking available for all types of MCQs as well as for SAQs/VSAQs, marking and analysis can be completed quickly and effectively.

Conclusion – Consider question types to optimise your exam performance

When developing healthcare exams, organisations want to use the best approach to assess candidates’ knowledge.  It is vital that in addition to the knowledge being tested, examining organisations look at which question types are most appropriate.

For some exams using a single question type may be appropriate, but in many cases utilising a mixed question format in healthcare exams can be a highly effective strategy to assess students’ comprehensive knowledge and problem-solving abilities.

By incorporating a variety of question types, such as multiple choice, short answer, and multi-line responses, examiners can gain a more holistic evaluation of candidates’ understanding of the subject matter.