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Before Designing a Multiple Choice Test, Think About This

Jordan Catapano

Before Designing a Multiple Choice Test, Think About ThisOne of the biggest questions we consistently ask ourselves – and our endearing administrators beg of us – is “How do we know students are learning?” To answer this question we devise an endless varieties of assessments.  Among these, the multiple choice test has endured as one of the most common forms of assessment. From our personalized classroom tests to national standardized ones, options A, B, C, D, and E are the ones our students appear most familiar with. But, as with all forms of assessment, there are several benefits to the multiple choice test, but also many pitfalls. We must ensure we are selecting the right assessments and designing it to maximize its purpose.

First, multiple choice tests may or may not be the best method of assessment. Although running bubbles through a machine really makes them a breeze to grade, that alone should not be the determining factor on how students should be assessed. Other methods – like written answers, graded discussions, or out-of-class writings and projects – may be equally or even more viable methods of assessment.

If multiple choice does seem the preferred way to assess, then there are some simple ways to maximize its effectiveness:

Make questions more about “thinking” than “memorization.” It’s easy to get into the habit of using multiple choice tests to simply see if students read or understood the material. Memorizing information lays a good foundation, but a good assessment also tests students’ ability to apply it.

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Attach standards to questions. If the courses you teach have a set of standards that you are supposed to measure in each student, then design each question on your test specifically to target at least one of those standards. This way, when students get certain questions wrong, you can see which standards they are falling short on.

Give students what they haven’t seen before. Don’t resort to giving students the same questions on study guides, quizzes, and tests. Instead, give them new information, new readings, new situations, and use these to test their ability to apply knowledge.

Share exams with other teachers. Your group of students is unique, and what you do with them is unique. Add validity to your assessments by having many different classes take them. Then you can compare classes’ scores and teaching methods.

Go over results with students and peers.  Avoid just updating grades and moving on. Like any assessment, give students a chance to see where their strengths and weaknesses are. Then, use the review of the test as a springboard to further goal-setting and reflection.

Since we want to make sure our tests – whether multiple choice or otherwise – are best answering our “How do we know they have learned?” question, then we need to make sure that we maximize each assessment’s design. So before you give that next big test, think about what you actually want to get out of it, and proceed appropriately.

Now, you tell us: how do YOU design tests and quizzes to ensure students are learning?