Recall vs Recognition
23rd July 2020
For so long a tool for diagnosing misconceptions and reducing test anxiety in educational settings, multiple choice
quizzes are increasingly becoming a popular format on television game shows, online quizzing sites and mobile
applications. The notion that it is easier to select from a list of options, rather than have to generate an answer
yourself, is one that creates a sense of confidence in contestants and users. Presented in this way, potentially
problematic topics become more accessible and subsequently, more inclusive. This format has undoubtedly been
integral to the success of shows like The Chase, Tipping Point and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? whose producers
utilise multiple choice as a means of increasing viewer numbers and encouraging audience participation. I mean,
the answer is right there staring back at you... all you have to do is find it!
Whilst multiple choice quizzes are perceived to make things easier for the player, writing quizzes in this
format can present certain challenges for the quizmaster. One thing to consider is the number of options to
include with each question. Too many and reading becomes laborious; too few and it is essentially a true or
false quiz and hence, more susceptible to guessing. The Chase and Tipping Point each have three answers to choose
from, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has four. And after much deliberation and various tests, we at Brainy Cow
have decided to include four answers (one correct, three alternatives) with each of our multiple choice quizzes,
feeling that this number gives a clean, user - friendly design layout on a desktop as well as on a mobile device,
and also affords us the opportunity to be creative with our incorrect options.
This leads me to introduce a commonly used tool of the quizmaster: the entirely plausible but nonetheless
incorrect answer! That is, an answer some way linked to the correct option, or so close to it in size /
spelling / sound, etc, that only a supremely confident user will not be flummoxed - at least a little - by its
presence. Choosing the right wrong answers can be a lot of fun! To demonstrate how we do this at Brainy Cow, let
us take a look at some questions from our popular Stranger Things Trivia
Firstly, this question about the brothers who created the drama...
Had this been a simple question and answer quiz, players would have to recall Duffer as the correct option
without prompt, thus excluding those with weaker memory skills or people whose retrieval abilities are adversely
affected by pressure. By making this a multiple choice quiz, and hence relying on recognition rather than recall,
everybody is back in the game, and even those with little or no knowledge of the subject have a 25% chance of
That’s not to say that finding the correct answer will be easy though. The other options here are all chosen
deliberately as plausible alternatives, to challenge the user and promote thinking. Buffer of course rhymes with
the correct answer, Dickens shares an initial sound, and Karamazov - the titular brothers of Dostoyevsky’s epic
1880 novel - is included purely to add a hint of humour for those who know both the book and the correct answer.
Similarly in this question about Hopper’s first name, rhyme and name association are used to make the user think
carefully before selecting their answer. Some super-fans will immediately choose Jim as the correct option,
others - having passively watched the series - may deliberate between Jim and Tim, whilst those with a broad
general knowledge will recognise Edward (artist) and Dennis (actor) as other Hoppers of distinction!
Choosing plausible alternatives and / or functional distractors (an option that is the correct response to a
similar question) are key components of making multiple choice quizzes that educate and entertain. Feedback from
our users suggests that for many, this is their preferred quizzing format, citing reduced time pressure and the
relative ease of recognition over recall, as reasons for their choice. In response to this, we are increasingly
using multiple choice quizzes on our site. So why not try a Quick-fire Country Quiz on
Italy, or challenge yourself to ten questions about
Robin Williams Movies or
Until next time, happy quizzing...