Penalize Incorrect Responses on Multiple-Choice Questions

When creating a test with multiple-choice questions, you can penalize incorrect responses to discourage random guessing. Students receive full credit for correct answers, no credit for questions they do not attempt, and a penalty for questions they answered incorrectly. This kind of penalty is often used on standardized tests.

Important:  This option should be used only for multiple-choice questions with one allowed submission.

To penalize incorrect responses:

  1. If necessary, change the allowed submissions for the question or assignment to 1.
  2. Open the Conditional Points window. 
    From hereDo this

    From assignment settings (Assignment Editor, Assignment Templates Manager)

    Under Automatic Point Adjustments > Bonus or Penalty, click add or edit.

    From a single question (Assignment Editor)

    In the Bonus or Penalty column, click add or edit.

  3. Under Select a Condition, select Assign a penalty for an incorrect answer.
  4. Enter the penalty that should be applied to incorrect responses.
    • If all of your questions have the same number of choices, you should apply the same penalty to each. For example, if all of your questions have five choices, you might want to deduct ¼ point for each incorrect response.
    • If your questions have different numbers of choices, penalties should be correlated to the number of choices for each question. The strategy used by many standardized tests and online homework systems, such as the SAT and Mastering Physics, is to deduct 100/(n-1) percent of the point value of the question, as illustrated in the following table.

      Number of answer choices (n)

      Penalty

      3

      50%

      4

      33.3%

      5

      25%

      This strategy means that guessing is beneficial to students if they can eliminate at least 2 choices, grade-neutral if they can eliminate only one choice, and detrimental if they cannot eliminate any choices.

  5. If available, click Calculate Points Breakdown. This feature is not available when editing conditional points for assignment settings.
    Conditional points window

    Review the displayed deductions for each number of submissions (the number of submissions should only be 1). If needed, change the penalty value and click Calculate Points Breakdown again.

  6. When the conditional points settings are correct, update the assignment or assignment template. 
    To update thisDo this

    A single question

    Click Update Question.

    All questions currently on the assignment

    Click Update All Questions.

    Assignment settings

    In the Assignment Editor or Assignment Templates Manager, click Update.

The Conditional Points window closes and your assignment or assignment template is updated.
Remember to save your changes in the Assignment Editor or Assignment Templates Manager.