Anatomy of a Quiz Question, Part 3: Why Did So Many Students Choose The Same Wrong Answer?

Need to catch up? Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the Anatomy of a Quiz Question series.

As you may tell your students, understanding why you got a question wrong is critical. When we understand our mistakes, we know how to do better next time. For this reason, it’s often helpful for you as a teacher to look at the most commonly chosen wrong answer for a particular question, and ask yourself why students were fooled by this option. Here’s an example, from the article on the migrant crisis, titled “People run to Europe to escape war, but some are stuck at train station.”

A is the correct answer because it names the central problem of the article. The introduction explains that the Syrians are looking for “a safe place to live,” and the second and third sections focus on why the migrants are “having trouble” by giving details about the difficult and dangerous journey they face.


So then why did 27% of students choose D? Choice D does partially address the main idea of the article, stating that Syria itself is “dangerous” and Syrians are leaving home. However, all three sections focus not on the danger in Syria, but on the danger Syrians face as they search for safer areas. Because D does not address this dangerous journey, it does not fully capture the main idea.

Here are some potential teaching points for students who chose D:

  • Read the entire article before choosing an answer.
  • Make sure to read all four answer options all the way through.
  • Remember that if only part of an answer seems correct, there is probably a better answer option.
  • Before answering quiz questions, read each section of the article and annotate the text with the main idea of each section.

Finally, here are three more articles you might assign students to help them develop their skills. The quizzes for these articles all include central idea questions, and each also relates to a topic covered in the migrants article above.

  1. Read about the experience of Chinese-American migrant railroad workers and compare the experience of these migrants to that of the Syrian refugees in the present day. (Here’s a Newsela Learning and Support lesson that incorporates this article.)
  2. Read about the sale of Syrian artifacts and gather background information on the civil war in Syria.
  3. Read about U.S. immigration policy and compare it to the policies of European countries regarding the Syrian refugees.

We hope our “Anatomy Of A Quiz Question” series was helpful to you and your students. Tweet us @newsela to let us know your takeaways or suggestions for future topics.