Saturday, January 23, 2010

True or False?: Multiple Choice Can Test Understanding

I've always been rather sceptical of the idea of multiple choice tests, because they're often administered badly and so merely test factual recall - e.g. what year was Hobbes' Leviathan published?: a) 1641, b) 1646, c) 1651, d) 1656. That's no way to test university students, who should be developing understanding rather than merely the ability to cram many facts into their heads.

Doug Portmore interactive quiz on hedonistic act-utilitarianism, however, strikes me as a fine example of how such testing can be done well. Granted the fact that it's binary (necessarily true or not necessarily true, rather than true/false) means you'd expect someone to get 50% just by guessing randomly, and maybe notably higher with a bit of luck and knowledge. Nonetheless, to get all the answers right - as I did - suggests that one is either very lucky or has a pretty good understanding of the implications of the stated theory.

Maybe there is a place for multiple choice tests, given their advantages (ease of marking being one) and I might even send this one to my students over the Easter vac...

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At 11:51 pm, Blogger Milan said...

One of my high school history teachers reduced the degree to which multiple choice tests are annoying by letting you argue why your 'incorrect' answer is correct from another point of view.

One major problem with such tests is that, in order for them to be challenging, they often need to include answers that are close to being true, but not correct in the eyes of the test writer.


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