November 17, 2012

Multiple Choice Tests

My school has decided to give quarterly common exams in every course (until this year we had common midterms and finals only).  The school has some scantron licenses, so the freshman team has been using scantron.  For a variety of reasons (scantron friendly, faster to grade if not on scantron, mimicking state test) the exams are mostly multiple choice.  I have mixed feelings about multiple choice, in my own tests I mostly use them as an easy way to provide a word bank or with the choices as "sometimes, always or never."  But, the state test is a graduation requirement and it's almost entirely multiple choice.

One of the my co-workers performed an interesting experiment (no claims of scientific method, just information to discuss).  She gave the quarter 1 exam and found that students did much worse than she expected based on their previous tests and quizzes.  So, she gave them another test that was essentially the same, except there were no choices.  They did much better!  The running hypotheses are that students were distracted by the wrong answers, or only read to the first reasonable answer, or just guessed because that was easier than actually solving.  Without the choices there, only the last one was a viable option, and the temptation was less.

We discussed all this in my department meeting and my department head had a brilliant idea: let's give them choices, but only after they've done out the work!  Students will have to work through all of the problems, then they will receive a sheet of multiple choice answers and a bubble sheet.  The hope is that this will get the students into the habit of solving the problem first, then comparing with the answers.  There are certainly times when checking the answers is more efficient than solving in another way, but if they practice this way often enough, perhaps students will decide wisely when to use the answers and when to solve the problem without looking at the answers.

We have yet to try this so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and concerns before we do.

Also, a perk of reading all those Day in the Life posts was I found out about GradeCam from Ms. Miller.  I'd like to use it for students to get quick feedback on how many problems they solved correctly, then I would go back and award partial credit and make sure they provided justifications.  We'd still use the method above (solve first, answer choices after).  Have you used this program?  Thoughts on it?


  1. I like the idea and will be interested to see if its implementation improves the exam scores. I have always felt that students jump at the first answer that looks reasonable when a problem requires more than a step or two to answer. Good luck.

  2. Can't wait to hear about the results. What a cool idea!