Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ban Multiple Choice Tests!?!

As a high school student, I did not like my history classes. Everyday it seemed, we sat through a lecture and then took notes. Before the test I would review my notes, memorize them and usually perform well on test made up of mostly multiple choice questions. I'm not sure I would call that "real" learning. In fact, this Edutopia article reveals the flawed creation story of multiple choice assessments.

Later on, in college, I found out that history was not just a series of names and dates. I discovered that history was full of interpretation and grey area. Based on that discovery, I decided I wanted to be a history teacher. I certainly do not lecture every day, in fact, I rarely lecture. But I do tend to give multiple choice tests (along with some short answer and essay questions). Multiple choice questions don't sit well with me, they certainly don't reveal the grey area of history. For this reason, last school year I gave several all-essay tests. I even attempted two rounds of discussion tests in the form of a socratic seminar (credit to @LS_Karl and his blog). I feel like these other kinds of tests force students to use facts as a way to support their claims and not just memorize some random facts the night before the test.

But are multiple choice tests really so bad? Several teaching professionals discuss the idea here. Perhaps testing factual content via multiple choice isn't the end of the world. Students do need to be held responsible for content knowledge and a multiple choice format (coupled with other types of questions) are an easy way for students to demonstrate that knowledge and teachers to assess it. I am in favor of the move away from history as names and dates, but in the end, there are some names I would like them to know.

Luckily, I teach in a private school so I am not worried about high-stakes multiple choice tests from the state. I also feel confident that if I hold students to a high standard of thinking and learning, they will do well on on college-entrance exams. In the coming school year, I will continue to distance myself from multiple choice tests, but I see no reason to ban MC questions altogether.


  1. Kaelyn,
    I can see both sides of this, but overall I remember loving multiple choice tests because it did require a bit less thinking, You knew the answer was one of those 4 choices and didn't have to start your thinking from scratch. We also learned ways to take multiple choice tests like eliminating 1-2 answers and stuff like that. I think they make it so students don't have to think as much as I really love that you are trying so many different methods of assessment. I think your students will do really well in the long run because of the amount of thinking they have to do in your class!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I think a nice mixture is always a good way to go.

  3. I like the idea of how you use different types of testing in your classroom. I was a fan of multiple choice tests, mainly because you could pick an answer if you didn't remember the answer. This probably explains why I am still terrible at history and dislike the subject to this day. I think your idea of doing tests with discussions that make students support their answer. This is a great way to make sure the students actually know the answer, rather than simply remembering the answer,

  4. I wrote a comment already, but not sure if will show up - so I will try to remember everything I said (I hate when that happens)! Learners over time will discover tricks on how to answer and decode multiple choice questions - looking for clues, length of answer choices, etc. What do multiple choice questions provide? They are a quick glance to acknowledge whether or not learners have lower level thinking (declarative and conceptual knowledge) that can assist in higher level thinking. This is necessary, but should not encompass your entire test. There are other more effective ways to assess your students - essays, presentations, media creation, newspaper articles, debates, demonstrations, etc. Multiple choice questions on paper/pencil does provide an effective purpose - practice for high stakes testing. It is an interesting topic for sure - :)

  5. Hi Kaelyn:

    I'm a believer that everything is good in moderation including MC tests. I think you're right when you talk about using them to access content which is important. I don't use MC much but I often do for review before a test. It allows students to review concepts and discuss the differences between the different possible answers. However, they do need to be used sparingly and should not be the sole indicator of progress for students in high stakes testing.

    1. I agree that using MC for review/formative assessment is a quick and easy way for both the student and the teacher to know if the low level facts are mastered yet.