We’re all familiar with them—multiple choice exams, the questions with a selection of provided answers we have to read so carefully before checking the appropriate box. Because they reduce the workload of correction through automated scoring, multiple choice exams are a useful tool for testing large numbers of students. It is particularly important, however, in designing multiple choice tests that questions are well-formulated and answerable, yet not easily guessed.
Multiple choice exams are a quick and reliable means of administering and evaluating examinations for large numbers of students. Appropriate software offers support in a range of tasks, such as formulating and evaluating the quality of test questions, scoring tests, and communicating test results to students. Multiple choice questions can be evaluated for such criteria as objectivity, reliability, level of difficulty, and validity through automated statistical analysis to ensure and enhance their quality. Among the various types of testing possible, multiple choice exams have proven to be comparatively fair.
The greatest disadvantage of multiple choice exams is that they require greater consideration. To benefit from the positive attributes of this form of testing requires the careful formulation of questions and response options (both the correct answer and incorrect alternatives). If this is not the case, students may arrive at the correct answer simply by guessing or by logical disqualification of response alternatives. More importantly, while multiple choice questions are not appropriate for testing all types of learning outcomes, they are certainly capable of testing more than information learned by rote memorization. They provide ample opportunity to test not only true/false and factual knowledge, but questions of classification, of preconditions and consequences, analogy, or even questions posed as miniature case studies.
Plausible and well-formulated distractors (incorrect responses) are, together with thought-provoking questions, the sin qua non of multiple choice exams. While this does not do away with the problem of guessing, it eliminates hidden context clues. Students should not be able to correctly answer a multiple choice question because they understand the principle of its construction, rather than the content of the question itself.
Legal frameworks and exam administration guidelines are another central issue in multiple choice testing. The General Academic and Examination Regulations APSO (§ 12a) contain detailed instructions for this form of examination. In general, at the TUM, the following rules apply: there can only be one correct answer among the listed alternatives (at least three, we recommend four or more, alternatives should be provided). Incorrect answers are worth zero points. Points may not be subtracted for incorrect answers.