The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Test Questions

At Precision Data Products, we’re happy to offer bulk quantities of Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) testing forms at an affordable rate. But when people think of our testing sheets, there’s usually just one that comes to mind — Scantron® Form 882-E, functionally identical to our own PDP-100 form. This is the testing form that every student and teacher has seen a thousand times; the good old reliable multiple-choice half sheet with 100 questions on each side.

What a lot of people don’t know is that we offer so many more OMR forms than just the PDP-100, and many of these forms have different types of test questions, allowing for more variety for students and educators. There are several different types of test questions, and each one has its own pros and cons.

While the overwhelming majority of our test forms rely on multiple-choice, you can find sheets that give you more variety. Here are the advantages (and disadvantages) of the many different types of test questions — keep them in mind the next time you’re writing an exam, and be sure to browse our online store to pick up the corresponding OMR forms.


It’s only natural to start with multiple-choice, the king of test questions. There is a reason why multiple-choice has endured over the years, but it’s definitely not without its pros and cons, and we’ve even dedicated an entire blog post to analyzing them. We’ll keep things shorter here, but it suffices to say that there is much to be gained from multiple-choice, as long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls.

The Pros

  • They Can Cover a Lot in Little Time: Multiple-choice questions allow you to cover a huge variety of topics and subjects, but it doesn’t demand a lot of time from the student. This allows teachers to create massive tests which cover a wide scope of their curriculum.
  • They Can Provoke Higher-Level Thinking: A well-written multiple-choice test isn’t always as simple as one answer being right, and the others being flat-out wrong. A question can contain partial truths in each answer, which compels the student to scrutinize the facts meticulously and call upon their knowledge.
  • They Are Easy to Score: OMR multiple-choice tests can be graded electronically, saving precious time for the teacher. But even when graded by hand, it’s a breeze. It may be tedious, but it’s easy, if nothing else.

The Cons

  • They Allow for Guessing: Unfortunately, multiple-choice tests can reward students for not preparing if they happen to guess the right answer. Of course, the odds that a student would guess the majority of questions right is astronomically low, but it can still be problematic.
  • They Can Give Away Answers: This mainly comes down to poorly-written tests. A badly worded multiple-choice question may effectively give away its answer on its own. On the other hand, a question near the end of the test could provide the answer to an earlier question, and vice-versa.
  • They Can Confuse and Confound: The line between a good and bad multiple-choice question can be very thin. Badly written “trick questions” can confuse students in the wrong ways, and the misinformation from incorrect answers can affect the way they think about the subject at hand.

True or False

True or false questions are basically stripped-down versions of multiple-choice, presenting the same flaws, but with fewer advantages. It’s for this reason why educators tend to stay away from them, but they’re not entirely without merit.

The Pros

  • It’s Simple Fact vs. Fiction: True/false questions are binary in their nature, and sometimes, less is more. Multiple-choice questions require students to examine which option is the most correct, while true/false questions demand that they identify what’s incorrect. It’s a small difference, but in the right context it can be more effective.
  • They’re Easier to Write: Multiple-choice questions, while flexible, can be taxing and time-consuming to write since you have to create so many answer choices. True/false questions preserve the general spirit of multiple-choice, but they’re far easier to write, saving teachers time.
  • They’re Easy to Grade: Much like multiple-choice, true/false questions are exceedingly easy to grade, both by hand and by OMR machines. This makes them an obvious candidate for larger exams.

The Cons

  • They’re Even Easier to Guess: The guessing problem is here too, only it’s worse than multiple-choice because it comes down to 50/50. For obvious reasons, that makes it far easier for unprepared students to stumble upon correct answers when they don’t know any better; it just comes down to a coin flip.
    They’re Often Badly-Written: While true/false questions are easier to write than multiple-choice, they’re also more vague, making it easier to write them badly. Sometimes the entire statement is true with one tiny piece of mostly-irrelevant info being false. A lot of true/false questions lose the spirit of what they’re intended to do because teachers focus on arbitrary minutia.
  • They Don’t Engage Students: The point of a test is to get students to dive into their memory banks and analyze what they know. Multiple-choice questions provide enough options to where students need to pick apart the answers and engage with their memory to deduce the correct answer. True/false questions, being binary, provide most of the information up-front, and only require students to reflect on one single piece of information. Overall, they’re just not as engaging as other questions.



Short-answer questions are effective because they force students to recall information without the assistance of “hints” that multiple-choice questions provide in their answer selection. This, however, is also their biggest weakness.

The Pros

  • They Don’t Give Students a Crutch: Short-answer questions are all-or-nothing; you either know the answer or you don’t. For certain subjects, this can be effective because it only rewards well-prepared students. For topics that benefit from hard memorization in the real world, students need to know their stuff.
  • Quick to Grade By Hand: Short-answer questions can’t be graded by an OMR machine, which means the teacher will have to do it on their own. Fortunately, as far as grading goes, short-answers are easy; it’s either correct or it’s not. It may not be as quick as automated grading, but it’s about as quick as can be otherwise.

The Cons

  • They Can Be Arbitrary and Superficial: Short-answer questions test hard memorization, which can be both good and bad. The bottom line is that in today’s world, we have all the information we need at the tip of our fingers, so in many fields, forcing memorization is just a superficial way of testing students. Short-answer questions should focus on what’s important — when they don’t, it’s just frustrating.
  • No Automatic Grading: It’s not the end of the world if you have to manually grade certain questions. But if you have a lot of students, a lot of short-answer questions, or both, it can stack up considerably. Educators should make sure they don’t overload themselves when they’re designing exams.

Essay Questions

Essay questions can be considered “high-risk, high-reward.” In a nutshell, their benefits are extremely valuable, but they’re also susceptible to the most pitfalls. Essay questions should be used with care and caution to ensure that they don’t sully the testing experience.

The Pros

  • They Allow Students to Deep-Dive Into Their Knowledge: Essay questions are flexible and they allow students to dip into their knowledge, and demonstrate their learning in creative ways. Well-prepared and talented students benefit greatly from this; it can show off the extent of their learning and allow them to reflect on their curriculum deeply.
  • Essay Questions Display Comprehension: It’s one thing to memorize a fact, and it’s another to actually understand and comprehend the lesson material. Essay questions allow students to show whether or not they “get it.” If a student has only memorized arbitrary facts which they intend to immediately forget, their lack of true understanding will manifest itself in an essay question.
  • Essay Questions Develop Other Skills: Essay questions not only test students in the class curriculum, it also helps them build practical real-life skills, mainly writing and persuasion. Students need to articulate their thoughts in text and formulate arguments. No matter where they are in life, these are valuable skills.

The Cons

  • Grading is Subjective: Essay questions are more nebulous to grade than other types. It doesn’t come down to “right” or “wrong,” and this can be problematic. Subjective criteria is often used to grade, which can be a landmine for teachers and students. The teacher’s own personal biases could play a role, and students can also write in a foggy manner which makes their answer more difficult to grade.
  • Writing Skill Can Make or Break the Answer: Unfortunately, some people just aren’t gifted at writing, and a student who knows the material backwards may end up failing an essay question because they can’t articulate themselves well. It’s sensible to expect good writing in an English class, but it can be highly frustrating for students when they get docked for their writing when they’re answering an essay question in science class.
  • Time-Consuming For Student and Teacher: Essay questions take up time. It takes a ton of time for teachers to grade them, and it’s the same for students writing them. And when they’re combined with other questions (such as being paired with a multiple-choice test), students who struggle with writing may take way too long working on them. Essay questions are risky, and should be used with careful consideration.

OMR Test Forms For Every Type of Question

Ultimately, it would be unfair to say that a single type of test question is objectively the best. They all have their own unique advantages, and they all present problems when they’re implemented badly. As long as you’re writing well-structured questions and considering the needs of your students, each question type can be a boon to your tests.

With that being said, you should know that Precision Data Products provides OMR test forms for every type of test. Whether you’re going with the good old-fashioned PDP-100 (882-E) multiple-choice form, or the CW-50 sheet which provides short-answer responses, we’ve got you covered. You can even order a multiple-choice test with a giant essay section in the PDP-886. These are only a few of our forms; browse our online store today to see our full selection!