Multiple Choice Tests: All of the Above

When addressing the validity of multiple-choice tests, there are many things to be concerned about. Multiple choice testing can be many things to many students.

  • Multiple Choice Testing (MCT) is a means to conformity
  • MCT can cover a great amount of material in a single test
  • MCT can also lead to student confusion with poorly constructed prompts
  • MCT can also be “beaten” by the experienced student
  • MCT does not address complex understanding of the given topic
  • All of the above.

1) A MEANS TO CONFORMITY: Every child will take at least one high stakes standardized test in his or her life. From the S.A.T. to state standardized testing, MCT is unavoidable in the current education system. Therefore, regardless of the content, there is an educational benefit to a teacher offering MCT in everyday curriculum. Students must learn to take this type of test. While conformity is not always desired, it does allow schools across the country to assess the abilities of one student against the next in an equal and uniform way.

2) A GREAT AMOUNT OF MATERIAL: Teachers and parents alike are looking for methods of addressing the needs of every student; the classroom should be seen as a composite of individuals rather than a classroom of students that are the same. The alternative to MCT is short answer and essay tests. There are two great drawbacks to short answer and essay tests. First, these tests require a much larger amount of time for the teacher to grade. The more time a teacher spends grading, the less time they have for individualized attention. Second, short answer and essay testing requires students to be able to write well. With English Language Learners becoming prominent in the classroom, decreasing reading rate among students at all grade levels, and learning disabilities such as dysgraphia on the rise, a test that requires students to write may not accurately test their knowledge. MCT is a viable alternative because it assesses student knowledge without them needing to write well in addition to knowing the test material.

3) MCT CAN BE CONFUSING: Certainly, MCT can be confusing. Directions can be opaque and test questions can be ambiguous. However, these concerns can be corrected for in two ways. First, the test creator can employ best test making practices. These practices include:

  • Avoiding statements with negatives in them and eliminate confusion from double negatives.
  • Keeping answers in similar lengths.
  • Varying the correct answer positions so that the answer is not always ‘D’.
  • Eliminating context clues such as ‘none of the above,’ ‘always,’ and ‘never.’

Second, if there is a confusing question, the test will indicate that. A teacher can elect to not count a question on a test if the responses indicate to do so. Indications include, every student (or nearly so) getting the question incorrect in the same way and every student (or nearly so) leaving the question unanswered.

4) MCT CAN BE BEATEN: Critics of MCT argue that there are unintended clues in many questions. Longer responses are often correct; statements such as never and always can ‘give away’ the answer; and statements such as ‘all of the above’ lead to little ambiguity about the correct answer. If the test is designed correctly, there will not be any way to ‘game’ the test.

5) MCT CAN BE COMPLEX: When it is designed correctly, MCT goes beyond the ‘true and false’ nature of testing. MCT can include answers that are partially correct and students must choose the response that is ‘most correct.’ This indicates a high level of knowledge and can be an equal or greater tool than written based testing because it can target specific content. Also, tests can be delivered with intelligent design. Given the computerized nature of testing today, a test can allow the user to answer a different set of questions based on their previous answers. For example, a respondent may answer a content area question incorrectly and the test can give them a similar question that will test their understanding of the concept in a new way. The scoring becomes more complex with correct, partially correct, and incorrect answers. However, the student receives the opportunity to truly demonstrate their abilities.

6) ALL OF THE ABOVE: MCT is all of these things. It can be a means conformity, an excellent way to cover a large amount of material, confusing when designed incorrectly, beaten as well when designed incorrectly, and lead to a complex analysis of the respondents knowledge. Ultimately, one must trust the teacher to fairly assess the student using MCT in addition to numerous other methods of formal and informal assessment.

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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