Multiple choice examinations

How to mini­mize guessing

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. 

  

  

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