Are Multiple Choice Exams Any Good?

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With the development of scantron technology, MC exams are becoming more and more common. In fact, until recently, the SAT, one of the most crucial exams for a student, consisted solely of multiple choice questions. According to Fairtest, “most standardized tests, including state exams and most commercial achievement tests, are made up primarily of multiple-choice items.” However, multiple choice tests are not as effective as educators think they are ISACA CISM .

The main problem with multiple choice tests is that they can be very subjective. According to Fairtest, “all these are subjective decisions that can be biased in ways that unfairly reward or harm some test-takers.” An issue often arises when a student has a good comprehension of the question but there appear to be two or more reasonable answers.

Another issue with MC exams is that students sometimes can answer a question correctly without having a good understanding of the material tested. And I am not talking about mere guessing here. For example, an Algebra II multiple choice exam may ask a question: “Solve x^2 + 2*x + 1 = 0. Use the quadratic formula.” The answer choices may be “A. -1,-1, B. 1,1, C. -1,1, D. No real solution”. A student does not actually have to know the quadratic formula to answer this question.

All he has to do is plug in -1 and 1 into the equation and see if it works. Also, a vocabulary multiple choice question may allow a student to answer the question correctly by just knowing which word “sounds right” without being able to recite it in an essay or in any more practical application. Students can also answer a question correctly without knowing the answer as long as they know that the rest of the answer choices are incorrect.

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