Monday, October 05, 2009

I Can't Tell "A" Work on a Multiple-Choice Test

I have been involved in an interesting project lately giving advice to an outside agency on how to set A, B, C, D, and failing grades on a multiple-choice sociology test. I have never used a multiple-choice test, and am not likely to. Nonetheless, I am glad I took part in this research project, because it helped me articulate why, exactly, I can't use a multiple-choice test.

My standard for B (good) work is that students show mastery of the assigned material. If they tell me back what I told them or assigned them, that is good. If they can do it in detail, that is very good (B+).

A (excellent) work requires B work plus something original. Their addition does not have to be absolutely original - not even Weber could do that every time. Rather, I want them to make their own connection between what we are studying and something else. I urge them to draw from other courses, their personal experiences, or at least material that we studied earlier in the term.

As a rule of thumb, I tell students that mastering the assigned material is a high school A and a college B.

A multiple-choice test only gives students room to show that they have mastered the assigned material. Even if they were able and ready to add original work, the format of the test gives them no place to show it. Thus, I can't tell A from B work on a multiple-choice test. And so should not use them. Which I don't.


Michael D. Bush said...

I have used multiple choice for what I call reading accountability quizzes. Perhaps that's not such an issue at Centre. But it turns out that where I work, if the class knows that there will be ten multiple choice questions on the content of the reading, the reading is very much more likely to get done than otherwise.

I create these with four possible answers: one pretty obviously wrong or even ridiculous (if you've done the reading), one answer that is somewhat less obviously wrong, and two possibilities that try to separate those who mastered the material from those who looked it over.

On these little accountability quizzes, people who have done B or B+ level work for you tend to end up with an A, and for the course grade as a whole other strategies try to discover the something extra that you are quite rightly looking for before giving an A.

anter said...

Is it difficult to grade a student fairly if you happen to dislike him or her?

Gruntled said...

No, nor if I like him or her.

My temptation to grading bias comes if I know from a previous class what kind of work a student is capable of.

Anonymous said...

As someone once told me, "They call him B. Weston for a's really hard to get an A."

Gruntled said...

That one got my wife to laugh out loud. :-)