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The Advantages of a Written Assessment

Jordan Catapano

Multiple choice tests have been a staple of student assessment for decades, and it is likely that they will remain so for a long time to come.

The biggest advantages of multiple choice tests include that they are extremely easy to grade, and it is simple for teachers to identify where students and classes at large struggle. A simple scan through a grading machine will score the tests, and item analyses options help teachers see where there are areas of strength and weakness.

Multiple choice tests conducted properly are another tool for teachers to measure learning and reflection. But there are many different ways to assess student skills, and multiple choice tests need to be understood within the spectrum of the many options available.

Another powerful assessment tool for teachers to use is to have students write down their own answers to questions. Instead of having students merely select the correct option, written answers compel students to compose their own unique answers to demonstrate their understanding.

A written assessment can come in many forms, depending on what the teacher desires. Whether one question, several questions, or many questions, the written test has several advantages that cannot be as easily replicated in multiple choice assessments.

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Advantage 1: Students are forced to demonstrate the extent of their knowledge. There is no such thing as “guessing” on a written test. Students either know the material or they don’t, and the format of the test requires that they express their understanding rather than merely bubble in someone else’s words.

Advantage 2: Articulation is part of the assessment. While a multiple choice test can help assess student thinking, it allows little room for student articulation. A written assessment instead requires that students perform two essential tasks – thinking and the articulation of that thinking.

Advantage 3: Students can explain their thinking. Students often try to “argue” their reason for picking a certain multiple choice answer that, in their mind, seemed perfectly justifiable at the time. Whether they have a good reason or not, if we reflect on it, it is exactly that skill – the identifying and arguing in defense of one’s answer – that we really want students to do. A written assessment offers a format for students to defend their answer by proving that their reasoning is justified.

Advantage 4: Written assessments take less time to create. While proper time should be allocated to deciding what exact questions to ask and how to phrase them, written assessments generally require less design time than multiple choice tests. Multiple choice assessments require many questions and many possible answers choices. Written tests only require the questions. (But yes, you’re correct, they do take more time to grade.)

Advantage 5: Teachers can provide better feedback on answers. A multiple choice question is either right or wrong. On a written assessment, an answer may be partially correct, and different portions of the answer may receive different attention. A written, developed answer allows for more opportunity for a teacher to assess thinking and articulation, and an instructor can target feedback to address specific portions of a student’s response.

While there are many different kinds of assessments, a written assessment offers several advantages that multiple choice tests cannot. As a teacher is deciding how to best prepare and assess his or her students, the instructor should take the advantages and disadvantages of each form of testing into consideration.