Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Multiple Choice

Multiple-choice exams are a quick and easy way that educators can evaluate their student’s cognitive knowledge. They are easy to create and students are given options in order to answer the question. A multiple-choice question includes a stem and options. The stem is where most of the information should be given about what will be answered. The options include three or more answers, with one answer being the correct answer (Popham, 2003).

When using a multiple-choice exam, it is important to realize there are many advantages and disadvantages. A multiple-choice exam can include two different types of questions, which are appropriate at different levels. An incomplete statement will yield an answer that is correct and involves a lower level of cognitive thinking. A direct question will have students choosing the best answer, which requires them to really weigh the options (Popham, 2003).

These two different levels of thinking can make multiple-choice questions a major advantage. Since the questions may vary in difficulty, a multiple-choice exam will allow for different levels of cognitive thinking being included. Another major advantage of using a multiple-choice exam is that it does not tae long to score. An answer sheet can be made very quickly in order to check the student’s response. This also gives the advantage of a quick turnaround time to giving the exams back to the students (Popham, 2003).

While the advantages to using multiple-choice exams sound very positive, there are many disadvantages. One major disadvantage is that the student may not know the actual answer. Since there are choices available for the students, they may not have been able to recall the answer if a short answer question was asked. Another major disadvantage is that all levels of cognitive intelligence cannot be assessed. Students cannot put in their own creativity and are limited in their responses (Popham, 2003).

Multiple-choice exams are easy exams to implement in the classroom, at the expense of creativity. When content knowledge is the most important domain to be assessing, a multiple-choice exam is one of the best ways to assess the students. Other assessments may be necessary when a teacher wants to assess the students at a higher level of thinking.

Popham, J. (2003). Test better, teach better: The instructional role of assessment. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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