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A test purpose– at least in academic context– is to measure a student’s knowledge on subject matter. A student passes a test by answering the test’s questions correctly. A test, therefore, expects a student to know the answer to what it’s asking.

Why, then, should a test bother with providing answers to the student? If a student is expected to know what’s covered on a test, shouldn’t a test simply ask the student to answer? Why should a test deprive the student a chance to answer a question with their own words, and instead make them decide between four of someone else’s responses? The idea seems silly.

As you can guess from my tone, I’ve historically not fared well on multiple choice tests.

A multiple choice test makes me think too much about things I shouldn’t be thinking about:

  • answers 2 and 3 to question 17 get at a similar point– which happens to be the answer to the question. but which answer should I choose?
  • option E reads “all of the above.” Did the test writer put that in there to accomodate the answer (which would make the answer obvious) or to confuse the test taker?
  • answers 1 and 2 are both true in different contexts. But I can only choose one.
  • question 20 reads “which of these is NOT an opposite of meiosis?” Why the hell is the question phrased like that?

I always finish multiple choice tests last because I get wrapped up in analyzing both the questions and answers, and their relationship with one another. If you provide answers to your own question, your answers naturally have an initimate relationship with your question. One of them is correct, and the rest are likely similar ideas you feel the person you’re asking will consider when answering the question. Each incorrect choice should cause the answerer to question and compare their options. When the real answer is clear, this process doesn’t take long. When it’s not, the process could take a long time.

And the real answer should never be too clear– if it was, tests would be easy. This brings me to my point– is a test that causes students to spend time comparing and pondering a set of answers more productive than a test that simply gets to the point of the matter: do you know the answer or not?

No, multiple choice testing is not productive. It’s only real productive quality benefits not the student, but the professor, who will spend less time grading a multiple choice test than a test filled with short answer questions. For a professor teaching more classes than he’d like, the multiple choice solution makes sense. But is it helpful to students, and will a student remember what he answered on a multiple choice test more than what he wrote in a short-answer test?

For me, I’m afraid not.

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