When right is only sort of right August 27, 2015 20:39

Multiple choice questions (MCs) can be challenging... not just for teachers to write, but to for us to interpret the results.  Since there is only one correct answer, many students can just make an educated guess at the right answer and get it right.  They can get it right without ever really understanding.  That means that when a student gets a high score on an MC test. they may not have really learned the information.  Which is more important?  Student score or student understanding?  Most teachers would say understanding (but not all, and not all students).

This problem has led many to try a different type of test question.  There was a lot of discussion about this at the 2015 SABER meeting.  Some try multiple true/false:  there are still ABCDE options, but each one has to be indicated by the student as true or false.  In this manner, there can be multiple truths in relation to the one question.  Other teachers are trying multiple answer questions:  there are still ABCDE options, but students can select 1, 2, 3, or 4 of them as right (you could also limit it to 3).

When giving students more than one option within a question, the opportunity arises to include "distractor" options.  These distractors could be misconceptions, simply sound plausible, or other options.  I have left out some distractors in my MC tests in the past because I didn't want to "trick" my students.  But if there are multiple correct options, they won't get the entire question wrong by falling for the trick.

When grading tests with multiple options for each question you have the opportunity to examine what percentage of your students still fell for the misconception as well as what percentage got the right answers.  Student scores will be lower, but you can forewarn them that raw scores will not be used.  You will also know what distractors your students are still holding onto so that you can help them learn FROM the exam.