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Evaluating multiple-choice tests

Score with your scoring: 4 options for marking multiple-choice

There are various ways of evaluating multiple-choice tests or exams. How do you choose the best system for your evaluation? We look at the 4 most popular scoring mechanisms for multiple-choice tests.

The need for objective assessments

Evaluations are indispensable for your course, as they let you determine your participants’ level of knowledge through measurable and comparable results. The reliability of those results depends on correct, objective assessments.

Over the years, various scoring mechanisms have been developed to assess evaluations. They often differ in focus, in particular in:

  • the way they deal with guesswork,
  • the way they assess partial knowledge,
  • the number of response options (one or more) they consider.

4 common scoring mechanisms for multiple-choice

1. Positive marking

Positive marking rewards each correct answer with a point. Unanswered questions and wrong answers do not score anything. The sum of all correct answers forms the final result.

Positive MarkingAdvantages

  • Most-used mechanism
  • Simple and transparent


  • Does not take guessing into account
  • Does not reward partial knowledge

2. Negative marking

Negative marking penalises wrong answers with negative scores. This principle is called correction for guessing. A negative score is usually equal to -1/( n-1), where n stands for the number of possible answers.

Negative MarkingAdvantages

  • Takes guessing into account
  • Easy to apply


  • Does not measure partial knowledge
  • Stress and fear can affect the result (because wrong answers are penalised, a question will more often remain unanswered)

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“Scoring mechanisms for multiple-choice questions”

3. Standard setting

The standard setting is based on the principle of the higher cut-off score: participants have to answer more than 50% of all questions correctly to pass. A mathematical formula is used to calculate the higher pass mark.


  • Takes guessing into account
  • Does not cause stress or fear of wrong answers


  • Does not leave room for partial knowledge
  • Assumes that each participant guesses equally

4. Elimination marking

Elimination marking is the only method that rewards partial knowledge by allowing multiple answers. The score depends on the number of answers the participant gives and whether they choose the correct answer.


  • Does take partial knowledge into account
  • Identifies the level of knowledge most accurately


  • Guessing is not discouraged
  • Requires some explanation to the participants

Elimination Marking

Determining an appropriate scoring mechanism…

… is not an exact science. Before making a choice, consider:

  • how you want to deal with guessing,
  • how you want to deal with partial knowledge,
  • which mechanism best suits the type of knowledge you are testing.

Various factors
can be decisive in choosing a particular mechanism, including:

  • your personal preference (or that of your educational institution),
  • the culture of your organisation or educational establishment,
  • past experience with mechanisms or target groups


The ideal system does not exist. But if you ask yourself the right questions and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each system, you will undoubtedly make the right choice.

Want to know more?

Our free e-book will help you to make well-informed scoring decisions.


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Bert Wylin
Bert is an EdTech pioneer. His academic background and entrepreneurship are at the basis of what has become AssessmentQ today. Bert likes to feel the pulse of the market. He understands real customer needs and turns them into workable innovations. Bert is also a content expert, specializing in creating accurate, rich and reliable content for digital exams.