Multiple Choices, Multiple Dislikes

The majority of students have experienced the feeling of doing well on a test, but then the grade turns out to be horrible, or they don’t know if they did well, despite knowing that they studied a lot for the test. This disappointment and/or uncertainty happen often after a test involving only multiple choice (MC) questions.

Multiple choice items were developed in order to assess large groups of individuals with standard procedures and the same scoring method for each individual. A good multiple choice test is supposed to be reliable and have high validity. In other words, individuals’ scores wouldn’t vary too much if they do an alternative test more than once, which means the test-retest reliability is high, but also, the total score of the test accurately measures what the test was intended to measure. So considering the supposedly high reliability and validity of multiple choice tests, why do many students still despise this type of test?

Many argues that questions are tricky, ambiguous, too detailed, or even that there are multiple correct answers to a question, but to get a mark, students need to choose the best of all possible correct answers, which sometimes could be a subjective matter. Students will often complain about hesitating between two answer options. However, the items in MC tests are usually selected in a proper way such that if a student really know its material, he/she wouldn’t hesitate, and also, the selection tries to account for the guessing factor (when a student takes a random guess for a MC question). Nevertheless, even students who prepared themselves a lot for the test still display hesitation during the testing.

While some students love MC tests because the answer is literally in the exam, but “hidden”, others dislike the scoring method of MC tests. The scoring procedure is very objective [which is supposed to be an advantage]. It’s an all-or-nothing type of scoring, which many students dislike. Compared to other tests involving short answers, there is no way to get half points or a few points like in a short-answer question type. Many professors will make few versions of a MC tests, and they try their best to choose questions in order to make versions be at the same difficulty, yet students still sometimes judge one version of a MC test to be easier than another one.

In addition, a MC test can only have a limited number of questions due to time constraint, which means that the questions selected might not involve part of the material that student studied. “If this was on the test, I would have nailed it!” is a common thought reoccurring in students’ minds. This statement leads us to think about the validity of MC tests. Academic MC tests supposedly measures the degree of knowledge a student holds about a course material, but the majority of students believe that grades don’t define very well how much a student knows about a certain subject. There’s even the joke about grades being the measure of how well a student can cram excess amount of information in their brain and spit it out during an exam.

Overall, the reliability and the validity of academic multiple choice tests should really be reconsidered giving how much students distaste MC questions. Nonetheless, whether students find it fair or unfair, MC tests will most likely stay in the academic realm of testing until we find a better way to assess students’ academic performances.

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