Multiple Choice Questions and Peerwise

Social learning theory (Bandura, 1986), social constructivism (Vgotsky, 1978), and communal constructivism (Tangney, FitzGibbon, Savage, & Mehan, 2001) provide research support for active student engagement in assessment within a learning community (Reilly & Denny, 2010).  Researchers have demonstrated higher performance by students who work with other students to create exam questions (Denny et al. 2008; Denny et al. 2010).

PeerWise is a software package that supports student construction of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) (Denny et al., 2008; Denny et al., 2009; Denny et al., 2010).  Students construct items, provide explanations for correct answers and explain away the alternative choices.  MCQs are shared with other students who self assess.  In contrast to questions that are part of high stakes testing, students get timely feedback on each answered question and can point out errors in logic to the item creators. Test-taker critiques lead to revisions.

Instructors provide guidelines for item creation.  Question designers learn whether they are on or off the mark from student answers and comments on their questions. Students answering questions get immediate feedback and explanations regarding their choices.  They can actively dialogue with the question creator, help the creator to refine and perhaps rethink the logic, and provide ratings of each question in the student item bank. Reinforcement of each others thinking coupled with active participation in student to student learning are frequently sufficient motivators for students to get engaged. But to get students started, instructors can motivate by awarding course credit for good items and placing a certain proportion of student created items on a regular test.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Denny, P., Hamer, J., Luxton-Reilly, A., & Purchase, H. (2008b). PeerWise: Students sharing their multiple choice questions. ICER ’08: Proceeding of the fourth international workshop on computing education research (pp. 51–58). New York, NY: ACM.

Denny, P., Hanks, B., & Simon, B. (2010). PeerWise: Replication study of a student collaborative self-testing web service in a U.S. setting. Proceedings of the 41st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 421–425). New York, NY:ACM.

Denny, P., Luxton-Reilly, A., Hamer, J., & Purchase, H. (2009b). Coverage of course topics in a student generated MCQ repository. ITiCSE’09: Proceedings of the 14th annual ACM SIGCSE conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education (pp. 11–15). New York, NY: ACM.

Denny, P., Luxton-Reilly, A., & Simon, B. (2009a). Quality of student contributed questions using PeerWise, January. In M. Hamilton & T. Clear (Eds.), Eleventh Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2009), Vol. 95 of CRPIT (pp. 55–64). Wellington, New Zealand: Australian Computer Society.

Holmes, B., Tangney, B., FitzGibbon, A., Savage, T., & Mehan, S. (2001). Communal constructivism: Students constructing learning for as well as with others. In J. Price, D.A. Willis, N. Davis, & J. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2001 (pp. 3114–3119). Norfolk, VA: AACE. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Reilly, A.L. and Denny, Paul.  (2010).  Constructive evaluation: a pedagogy of student-contributed assessment.  Computer Science Education, 20, 2, 145-167.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.