Benefits and drawbacks of various kinds of Test Questions

It’s good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the very commonly used test questions as well as the test banks that now frequently provide them.

Multiple-choice questions

  • Easy and quick to score, by hand or electronically
  • May be written in order that they test a range that is wide of thinking skills
  • Can cover plenty of content areas on a single exam and still be answered in a class period
  • Often test skills that are literacy “if the student reads the question carefully, the clear answer is easy to identify even when the student knows little in regards to the subject” (p. 194)
  • Provide unprepared students the need help writing paper chance to guess, sufficient reason for guesses which are right, they get credit for things they don’t know
  • Expose students to misinformation that may influence subsequent thinking about the content
  • Take time and skill to construct (especially good questions)

True-false questions

  • Quick and easy to score
  • Regarded as “one of the most unreliable forms of assessment” (p. 195)
  • Often written so that the majority of the statement holds true save one small, often trivial little bit of information that then makes the whole statement untrue
  • Encourage guessing, and reward for correct guesses

Short-answer questions

  • Quick and easy to grade
  • Easy and quick to write
  • Encourage students to memorize terms and details, to ensure that their knowledge of the information remains superficial
  • Offer students a way to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities in many ways
  • Could be used to develop student writing skills, specially the power to formulate arguments supported with reasoning and evidence
  • Require extensive time to grade
  • Encourage use of subjective criteria when assessing answers
  • If used in class, necessitate quick composition without time for planning or revision, that may result in poor-quality writing

Questions provided by test banks

  • Save instructors the right time and effort associated with writing test questions
  • Utilize the terms and methods which are used in the book
  • Rarely involve analysis, synthesis, application, or evaluation (cross-discipline research documents that approximately 85 percent for the relevant questions in test banks test recall)
  • Limit the scope of this exam to text content; if used extensively, may lead students to conclude that the material covered in class is unimportant and irrelevant

We have a tendency to genuinely believe that they are the only test question options, but there are a few interesting variations. The content that promoted this review proposes one: focus on a question, and revise it until it can be answered with one word or a short phrase. Try not to list any answer choices for that single question, but put on the exam an alphabetized list of answers. Students select answers from that list. A few of the answers provided may be used over and over again, some is almost certainly not used, and there are many more answers listed than questions. It’s a version that is ratcheted-up of. The test is made by the approach more difficult and decreases the opportunity to getting an answer correct by guessing.

Remember, students do must be introduced to any new or altered question format before they encounter it on an exam.

Editor’s note: the menu of advantages and disadvantages is available in part through the article referenced here. In addition it cites research evidence relevant to some of these pros and cons.

Reference: McAllister, D., and Guidice, R.M. (2012). This might be only a test: A machine-graded improvement towards the multiple-choice and true-false examination. Teaching in advanced schooling, 17 (2), 193-207.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 28.3 (2014): 8. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.


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