Distractors

What is it?

Distractors are the multiple choice response options that are not the correct answer. They are plausible but incorrect options that are often developed based upon students’ common misconceptions or miscalculations. Item analysis software typically indicates the percentage of students who selected each option, distractors and key.

Where do I find it?

In ANGEL, view distractor information by taking the following steps:

Step 1: Select the test or quiz for which you want to view the item difficulties.
Step 2: Click Reports
Step 3: Click Item Analysis
Step 4: In the Display Options box, check Show all question text to view the full stem of each item. Check Show all answer option text to view all options (the key, and the distractors) for each item.

The green check mark  indicates the key (correct option).

How should I use this information?

As you examine the distractors, there are a number of things you should consider.

1. Are there at least some respondents for each distractor? If you have 4 possible options for each item but students are selecting from between only two of them (for example, see Item #2 in the response table above), it is an indication  that the other distractors are ineffective. Even low-knowledge students can reduce the ‘real’ options to two, so the odds are now good that they will choose correctly. In short, this situation increases the possibility of students without knowledge guessing correctly. (It is not necessary to revisit every single “0” in the response table. Instead, be mindful–and responsive–where it looks as if distractors are ineffective. Typically, this is where there are two or more distractors selected by no one.)

2. If you are referring to the item analysis provided by the university’s Scanning Operations, you may notice a plus (+) next to some distractors. A plus indicates that a percentage of the students who selected that particular option were among the highest performing students on the overall exam. In other words, for some high-knowledge respondents, that particular distractor was alluring. This is important, as theoretically, we expect students with knowledge to select the correct answer. You should consider revisiting distractors with plusses to be certain that they are worded clearly, that there are not multiple possible interpretations, etc. (Plusses next to small response numbers is likely not a concern. Only a few students would have selected that option anyway. Further, it IS possible for high-knowledge people to get answers wrong!)

What should I aim for?

Distractors should be plausible options. Test writers often use students’ misconceptions, mistakes on homework, or missed quiz questions as fodder for crafting distractors. When this is the approach to distractor writing, information about student understanding can be gleaned even from their selection of wrong answers.

Theoretically, distractors should not be selected by students who have a good understanding of the material. So it’s important to determine whether your best students (on the exam) are, for some reason, being drawn to an incorrect answer. A plus (+) in the response table provided by Scanning Operations will indicate that this may be happening.

How well do I understand it?

Use what you’ve learned about item distractors to answer the Test Your Understanding questions.  For each item, make your choice then click the Continue button.