After reading an article on Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in a Rolling Stone magazine, these are two examples of questions that I would ask my students on a test (in a multiple-choice format.) These questions are also representative of two different levels of Blooms taxonomy.
1) As a member of the Grateful Dead, what was Jerry Garcias only radio, billboard hit single
a) Throwing Stones
b) Touch of Grey
c) Built to Last
d) Franklins Tower
Correct answer: b. Touch of Grey.
2) In chronological order, identify which answer represents the progression of keyboard players (pianists) that Jerry Garcia played with in the Grateful Dead
a) Brent Midland, Pigpen, Vince Wellnick, Keith Godchaux
b) Pigpen, Keith Godchaux, Brent Midland, Vince Wellnick
c) Keith Godchaux, Brent Midland, Vince Wellnick, Pigpen
e) Vince Wellnick, Pigpen, Keith Godchaux, Brent Midland
Correct answer: b
I feel that these are good examples of multiple-choice questions because they do not include in the answer section choices such as, none of the above, or all of the above. It helps to omit choices like these because these answers do not contribute in measuring students mastery of the subject or in teaching unlearned material. These questions both have discriminatory power, allowing me to see who has mastered the material and who hasnt.
The distracters that I selected for these questions are the key ingredients that help me see who has mastered the subject. The distracters are not obvious wrong answers, they are choices that make the students think, which ultimately raises the cognitive level of the test beyond that of just memorization and recall.
I believe that my questions are clear and easily understood. They should not make the student unnecessarily use energy in figuring out exactly what the question is asking. Also in an attempt to make the question as clear as possible I avoided the use of jargon and other complicated terms. I only used words that would be common to their vocabulary. I also avoided using negative test words such as, not and never. By doing this I made my questions easier to understand. I also tried not to make the right answer too obvious in comparison to my distracters. The last thing that I did to make these questions better was to avoid redundancy by writing and re-writing the questions.
Essay questions are very advantageous because unlike multiple-choice questions they can measure what the students know and have mastered. They allow for students to express, in writing, what they do know about the material for which they are being held accountable. The second advantage of the essay test is that they allow students to explain why the material is important to them (this is internalization of information.) Essay questions promote higher levels of thinking and they also allow the students to tap into their creative energies.
Essay questions do have their disadvantages like teacher grading bias issues. It is much harder to grade a free-flow of thought, expressed on paper then it is to grade a scantron test. The essay questions have to be thought out so your students dont go astray from what is really being asked.
In the 90s over seventy percent of tests were in multiple-choice format. The multiple-choice format allows the teacher to cover large amounts of information with less guesswork then that of true/false or fill-in-the-blank testing formats. Multiple-choice questions are a good way to measure a students degree of judgement, while true/false reduce answers to right/wrong decisions. Multiple-choice questions bring out distinctions between what is good, what is best and what is erroneous.
Another major advantage in using multiple-choice questions is their ability to discriminate. Multiple choice questions give you the ability to tell you which students have mastered the material and which have not. This ability is also known as discriminatory power.
Some teachers prefer multiple-choice tests because they think that the objective quality in the test removes the potential for grading bias. Some teachers will also favor multiple-choice tests because they think that students will be less likely to contest their grade. One more obvious but note-worthy advantage to multiple-choice testing is that they are very easily and quickly graded.
Educational psychologists argue that one of the major limitations of multiple-choice testing is that they test students on what they do not know instead of what they do know. As a student I have experienced the frustration that sets in after I have read a multiple-choice question and I feel that there are more then one correct choices (answers.) When this happens the student is left feeling angry and or cheated because they feel that knew the material, but the format doesnt let them demonstrate what they know. Again, it is very disadvantageous and frustrating for teachers and students alike when the student understands the material being tested but they do not know how to respond to the test item.
An obvious disadvantage to multiple-choice test questions is that they take a large amount of time to create. And if the time is not devoted to good question development, the test will reflect even less of what the students have learned. With these questions there is no room for a students creativity, which may in fact be their strong point, and thus they are penalized. With this in mind the short-term objectives that are dependent upon memorization are most likely to be measured. This is not a good replacement for the long-term goals of reflective thought and understanding.