Most e-learning courses end in the same way: with a quiz. The goal of these quizzes is to find out if your learners absorbed the information or skills presented in the course. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

But designing quizzes that give you real insight into what your learners have absorbed and how well they’re prepared to apply it is equal parts art and science. Today, let’s focus on one of the most important factors in designing an effective quiz: choosing the right question type.

For example, if learners need to be able to explain something, it doesn’t make sense to use a multiple choice question. Even if they get the question right, you still won’t know if they’re actually capable of explaining it. You’ll just know that they’re able to select the correct explanation from a list of choices. In this case, an essay question is a better fit since learners can try their hand at explaining—which is what you want them to be able to do.

So how do you know which question type is best suited for each situation? Start by thinking about what your learners need to do with the information or skills you’re teaching them. For example, do they need to recognize a street sign? Locate a specific gear on an engine? Categorize products by type? If you’re not sure, go back and review your learning objectives and think about how you can turn them into questions.

Then, use the following list of common question types and the kinds of situations they’re best suited for to decide which question type is most effective.

Multiple Choice and Multiple Response Questions

Multiple choice and multiple response are the most commonly used question types in e-learning courses. They’re also the most commonly misused question types in e-learning courses, as people often select them by default without considering any other question types.

These question types are perfect for situations when your learners need to be able to recognize information or identify the correct response(s) from a set of options.

For example, in this course on driving in France, learners need to be able to recognize road signs and identify their meaning. To measure whether or not they’re able to do that, I included a multiple choice question asking them to choose the meaning of a specific sign:

Screenshot of multiple choice question

You can also create scenario-based multiple choice questions when you want learners to analyze a situation, evaluate the possible outcomes, and identify the best possible option, like in this customer service course:

Screenshot of scenario-based multiple choice question

However, it doesn’t make sense to use multiple choice when your learner needs to be able to explain or recall something from memory, because it won’t give you an accurate picture of whether they’re able to do that. It will only allow you to determine if they’re able to pick out the correct answer from a list.

Another thing to keep in mind with multiple choice questions is that learners are often able to guess the correct response based on the process of elimination. To avoid this, do your best to come up with plausible incorrect responses (also referred to as distractors) and try to make them all roughly the same length. The risk of this happening is mitigated in multiple response questions where learners don’t know how many of the choices are correct.

Hotspot Questions

Hotspot questions—or questions where learners are asked to select a specific area on the screen—are best suited for situations when learners need to be able to locate something, for example, a country on a map or a specific gear on an engine.

If, instead of asking learners to locate something, you want them to identify an object, you’d be better off using a multiple choice question where the choices are images of those objects, like in this skeletal system example, where the bone name is highlighted when learners click on it:

Screenshot of skeleton example

Drag-and-Drop Questions

There are four main types of drag-and-drop questions. Let’s take a look at the situations where you should use each of them.


This kind of drag-and-drop is best for when you want learners to categorize concepts.

For example, in this sun safety course, learners have to drag items that will help protect them from the sun to the beach bag and items that won’t to the trash can:

Screenshot of drag-and-drop activity


You can use this kind of drag-and-drop when learners need to prioritize tasks, rank items, or put items in order.

For example, in this sales course, learners have to put the sales steps in the correct order:

Screenshot of ordering drag-and-drop activity


This question type is great for when learners need to match two related items.

For example, in this course on trees, learners need to match the common tree names with the scientific names:

Screenshot of matching activity


If your learners need to be able to organize objects in a certain way or place objects in a specific spot, you can create a drag-and-drop question where learners can do just that.

For example, in this course on etiquette, learners are asked to place the utensils in the correct spot on the table:

Screenshot of utensil placement activity

And in this course on Canadian geography, learners must drag the cities to the correct spots on the map:

Screenshot of geography drag-and-drop activity

Fill-in-the-Blank or Short Answer Questions

When learners need to recall information without any prompts, you should use a fill-in-the-blank or short answer question. What makes fill-in-the-blank questions more complex than other question types is that learners have to provide exactly the same answer as you in order to get the question right. For this reason, it’s important to anticipate as many possible correct answer variations so the course doesn’t mark their answer as incorrect when they’ve actually responded correctly.

For example, in this course on animal names, learners need to type in the name of the animals they see pictured:

Screenshot of fill-in-the-blank activity

Essay Questions

If learners need to be able to explain something, the only way to test their ability is by asking them to complete an essay question.

Because these kinds of questions are open-ended, it’s next to impossible to accurately predict all the correct answers a learner could give. For this reason, these questions can’t be corrected automatically. If you include an essay question, someone—likely you or the subject matter expert (SME)—will have to correct them manually. Depending on the number of learners and the amount of time you or the SME have to dedicate to this course, you’ll need to decide whether or not to include this type of question.

Before adding an essay question to your e-learning quiz, you’ll also want to find out if your LMS can capture learner answers. Unfortunately, not all LMSs have this capability, so you’ll want to check in with your LMS provider first. Once you determine it’s possible, ask them to walk you through the process of collecting and correcting the responses in the LMS to make sure it’s not too labor-intensive.

If you don’t have time to correct each answer manually or if your LMS can’t capture learner answers, another option is to give learners an opportunity to compare their answer to your pre-written answer and self-evaluate, like in this interactive writing example:

Screenshot of self-evaluation activity

The Bottom Line

If you want your quiz to accurately measure the learner’s ability to apply their newfound knowledge and skills, the questions need to be as realistic as possible. And in order for them to be realistic, you need to choose the type of question that most closely resembles what learners will need to be able to do in real life. Hopefully this list will make that easier!

More Resources

Choosing the question type that best suits the associated learning objective is only half the battle. It’s equally important to write quiz questions that are clear, include plausible distractors, and provide helpful feedback. Here are some additional resources to help you take your quizzing skills to the next level:

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