As a teacher, I have always objected to multiple choice answers because–like so many techniques used in the public schools–they train children to guess. Yet this type of testing is the most common in U.S. schools and on standard examinations.
When I was required to use them, I always tried to provide choices that required the student to have some prior information in order to choose the correct answer.
Now I am not so sure even providing more difficult answer choices can justify the use of this type of test.
I receive the Daily Trivia Email at Yahoo. Each question has four multiple choice answers. After submitting my answers, I get a page that tells what percentage of readers got the right answer. I am always surprised when the answer is extremely obvious, but the percentage of readers who got it right is below 80%.
For example, here’s a question that requires a certain amount of knowledge in order to select the correct answer:
Where was the first successful settlement by Englishmen in the United States?
a. Yorktown, Virginia
b. Salem, Massachusetts
c. Boston, Massachusetts
d. Jamestown, Virginia
All the choices are locations in the United States. Some thinking was required. Only 77% of players got it right.
On the other hand, even questions with extremely obvious answers often result in a low incidence of correct answers, like this one:
What did John Philip Sousa help invent?
a. the oral contraceptive pill
b. the incandescent light bulb
c. the sousaphone
d. the violin
One would think that even a reader with absolutely no prior knowledge would be able to guess the answer to this question. The percentage of correct answers for this one was also 77%. It seems to me that anyone who could miss the correct answer to this question is either a non-English speaker or a compulsive guesser.
The most accurate testing instruments are also the most time-consuming to grade:
1. essay answers (a paragraph or more)
2. sentence answers
3. short answers (one or two words)
The only type of test that ranks lower than multiple choice in terms of evaluating learning is True/False.
Parents need to know the basis for their children’s grades. If most of their testing is by way of multiple choice or True/False quizzes, parents need to test their children more efficiently at home.