10 Mistakes in Elearning Design: Dead-End Quiz Questions

Navigation design, visual design, auditory design – these are all important! But I think my biggest frustrations as a learner have come from poorly designed quizzes. There’s nothing like encountering an overly difficult quiz question and then getting stuck there, so close to the end, and yet so far!

So let’s chat today about quiz design, starting with dead-end quiz questions!

This is the ninth post in my series, 10 Mistakes in Elearning Design.

Here’s what we’ve already covered:

Mistake #9: Dead-End Quiz Questions

I’ve been there. You’ve been there. You’re deep into an elearning and it’s time for the quiz.

“I’ve got this!” you think. But then you see the first quiz question, and you are stunned. You thought you were getting an introduction to the periodic elements, but the quiz is asking you to drag and drop the elements by weight! “I was supposed to memorize these??” you think to yourself.

Yet, you give it a shot. The only way out is through. 

WRONG! Aack! Of course you didn’t get it on the first round. Let’s try again. Maybe we’ll get lucky this time.

You rearrange. You click submit.

Wrong again!

You are going to be on this slide for the rest of your life. You keep trying, you keep getting it wrong. This is a dead-end quiz question!

skeleton in a desk chair
Your learner after an overly complex quiz question with infinite tries.


Of course there is a better way – and it’s so simple! Limit the tries on a quiz question to two attempts. If you want the user to meet a minimum score on the quiz, no problem – just branch them to the content they need to revisit and then let them try the quiz again:

Give your learner an out! Let them breathe. Give them another chance. A well-written and well-designed quiz should be repeatable.

Here’s another example of a quiz question gone wrong:

Eight plants are available for dragging. How many are suitable? That would be helpful information. Does this question align to the learning objective, do you think? Is it important to be able to visually identify and also have memorized plants suitable for Phoenix?

There are so many ways to get this question wrong, and frequently no formative feedback is offered. How would you offer formative feedback on this one, anyway? It’s a very difficult design.

Here’s a good redesign:

The strength of this is that it’s simplified. Supposing this quiz question DOES align well to the learning objectives, this is a good redesign. The directions state that only ONE plant should be dragged. There are only three options to drag. This redesign demonstrates a bit of scaffolding – breaking down the task into smaller bits. If you really wanted the learner to identify and memorize all of the appropriate plants, you could have a series of these simplified questions where they identify one at a time. With all that practice, they’d be more likely to master a more complex drag and drop.

Still, limit it to two attempts!


When your learner arrives at the quiz, they should be well-prepared. They should have had the content and practice they needed to be successful in their final assessment. There should have been formative feedback in the practice activities to help them learn.

But you never know what’s going to go wrong for them, so do good instructional design, but always limit quiz questions to two attempts.

Drag and drops in particular are a real horror show when they have infinite tries. I frequently see drag-and-drops that have way too many drag items and way too many ways to get them wrong. Two attempts! So important.

Next Time

We are going to write some high-quality test questions together! Quizzes are often an afterthought, but well-written quiz questions should align to the learning objectives and be a true test of whether learners have mastered them. Did the learner in the above scenario really need to memorize the weights of these elements? Or could they have had a cheat sheet to help them through it? Let’s consider together what quiz questions are reasonable, true-to-life, and still well-aligned to your learning objectives. Next time!