Thursday, September 16, 2010

Multiple choice tests aren't all bad

Professor David DiBattista, from my alma mater, Brock U, was recorded in a podcast discussing when it is appropriate to use multiple choice tests.
The iTunes info:

Fostering Critical Thinking Through Multiple-choice Testing - David DiBattista
ReleasedMay 18, 2007
Professor David DiBattista is a recent 3M Award winner who’s research focuses on the use of multiple choice questions, particularly in large classes. This podcast episode is a condensed version of professor DiBattista's presentation that was captured April 10th, 2007 during the Univierty's *Inquiry Across the Disciplines faculty development day.

In brief, Mult-choice tests have more flexibility and usefulness than they are given credit for, and written answer questions can be poorly worded enough that a few mult-choice questions would be the better choice.

His talk reminded me of a legend i had heard in High School:  A university student sat down to write an engineering exam and came to a question, "Write what you know about adiabatic engines (Well, I can't recall the actual content - Write what you know about ____.)  The student thought carefully and answered, "I don't know anything about them."
After significant legal wrangling, the university gave him full marks for his answer and later professors were cautioned to think about their test questions more closely.

What I love about the answer, and his successful battle, is that he managed the only creative response possible to the question.  Any other answer would entail remembering and repeating knowledge - which is what mult-choice questions are good for testing.

DiBattista did explain the boundaries for mult-choice questions and mentioned "Bloom's Taxonomy" which I had heard before but which I now think I need to research further.
* [sic] I'm embarrassed for my university to see the word 'university' misspelled like that.  On the other hand, I recall making either a Facebook or a Yahoo Groups page titled "--previous workplace-- Univeristy".  I did my best to convince my coworkers that I deliberately misspelled it to make it harder for outsiders to search for.

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