Education at Risk: Multiple Choice Tests
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Education at Risk: Multiple Choice Tests

Multiple Choice Tests

According to the article “Multiple-Choice Tests” posted in, multiple-choice tests greatly affect education today. The article focuses on questions such as:  Are multiple-choice tests objective? What can multiple-choice items be used for? Multiple-choice and critical thinking; and, Should multiple-choice tests be used at all? Fairtest states that a test “usually  has dozens of question or items. For each question, the test-taker is supposed to select the “best” choice among a set of four or five options.”

Many standardized tests today, including State exams, are of the Multiple-choice type. Test-makers argue that multiple choice exams are, in fact, objective and impartial, because humans do not score the tests. The scoring is usually done by machine. However, the article does point out that even though scoring takes place through a machine, humans do participate in the decisions necessary to formulate which questions to include in a test, how to phrase the question, as well as what kind of “distractor" to use. The distractors are the options available to the students taking these types of exams, alongside the correct answer.

Furthermore, human involvement is evident in other parts of the test-taking process. The lack of further explanations in the answers, on the part of the students, lead us to think about the high possibility of sheer guessing as a flawed solving technique . Therefore, Multiple-choice tests are, in this regards, subjective enough to consider the risk of bias towards students.

We are aware that multiple-choice tests indeed measure the knowledge that a child may have on basic facts and figures. However, I agree, with the author of the aforementioned article, that when it comes to “non-routine problems, analyzing, interpreting, and making mathematical arguments, multiple-choice questions are not useful”. An important fact I learned in my recent studies on the subject, is that an effective assessment requires feedback from/to students in order to emphasize the strengths and weaknesses to be corrected. This is one factor that multiple choice tests lack. Even though these types of test measure basic, succinct and almost telegraphic knowledge, they do not give a proper and immediate feedback from/to the students about their weaknesses, which I consider is crucial in helping the child understand the subject they are being tested for.

The article also points out that “relying on multiple-choice tests as a primary method of assessment is educationally dangerous”. This is indeed the case, because of cultural assumptions and biases that may come up on these types of tests, which was the subject of a previous essay from this student. Moreover, we know that test bias does exist, as mentioned earlier in this paper. Even though these tests most of the time are scored by machine, there are other factors that may carry the possibility of human biases. These tests are therefore, not completely free from taking sides on gender, race, culture, special need students, socio-economic learners, or English language learners. This bias, places the mentioned groups in a disadvantage, and can certainly discourage students from taking these tests.

Importantly, in order for a test to be considered a "fair test", we must thoughtfully accommodate these students fairly, be it by providing word banks for ELL students, or allowing oral responses, extended time, or enlarged print for special needs students. It is equally necessary that a more systematic way of looking for biases be implemented for these exams, so that students do not have to experience bias while taking them.

Another point commonly brought up on these matters, is that schools view multiple-choice tests as very important, and really take the time to practice questions just like the ones on multiple-choice exams, questions which are regularly provided as examples. I can definitely relate to this because of some occurrence in my son’s school. I noticed that he came home complaining about taking practice tests often; as I checked his backpack he had many samples of tests he had taken from previous years as a preparation for his own ELA and Math tests that he would be taking in the beginning of 2009. This can be somewhat tiresome and repetitive for students. This brings me to the next point the article brings up, which is that many times students do not get to read “real books, to ask their own questions, to have discussions, to challenge texts, to conduct experiments, to write extended papers, to explore new ideas – that is, to think about and really learn a subject.” I completely agree with this because, to a certain extent, the answers to those tests could really be a selective prefabrication which was learned by rote and repetition, things that defeat the purpose of a true and valuable education.

Even though our school system today does not necessarily promote dialogue and discussion during classes, particularly during the early years, I believe parents and society should use the information provided here as a departing point. Our students can learn freely when they are being recognized and considered as active participants in their own education. Education in my point of view takes place in dialogue, and the interactive self evaluations and feedback between not only the teacher and the student, but also between the environment and the child, and indeed society as a whole. This includes friends and other parental figures. If students are therefore only being taught how to take multiple-choice exams, then they are missing out on a very important part of their education, which are these very productive dialogues that can help them explore new themes and ideas.

Lastly, I agree with the argument of the article, subject of this essay, that “classroom assessments and standardized tests should not rely more than on a small amount of multiple-choice questions, or short-answer items. Instead, other well-designed forms of assessment should be implemented and used properly. Most importantly, all teachers need to be capable of high quality assessment to help their students learn.” This assessment will really help in guiding me as a teacher, to make the necessary modifications or changes in my lesson planning, which in turn will help me correct decisions as to which methods of education to use. As a future special education teacher, is especially good to know how to teach to students of different backgrounds and disabilities, and this pursuit entails a variegated set of more interactive educational tools and techniques, chief among them dialogue, observation, explanations, improved evaluations, and quality assessment and scoring methods. In this way I will be able to provide the proper accommodations for these students, by teaching them valuable skills for real life.

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Comments (2)

Multiple Choice Tests are not objective, despite the claims of lazy educators. Their only real virtues are ease to create, quickness to grade, and ease of statistic usage. The third catagory is more a problem with academic research (which has been leaning heavily on multiple choice tests over the past few decades), but still applies to kids somewhat. The biggest problem involves the term "objective." Those who support multiple choice tests call them objective because all the responses are the same for all participants/students and can therefore be easily measured/graded. Sadly, this logic has serious flaws in both research and schooling. In research, the problem comes with simplifying and restricting the possible answers a person can give- your collected data becomes a function of how well you matched the answers you allow with the feelings of the respondants. By doing this you undermine your ability to collect valuable data about respondants actual feelings/opinions/etc. This can heavily skew results on some issues and becomes impossible to detect in most published papers. Back in schools, multiple choice tests are even worse than they are for research because doing well on them is a skill that can be learned (I regularly scored 80-90% on multiple choice tests where I didn't actually have any answeres back in school, just by knowing how the answers were usually written). One of the other arguements for their use is that when you know how to write an essay (another popular test option), you can BS your way through almost any answer without knowing any real information. While this is valid, it ignores two important points. The first is that you can do nearly the same with multiple choice tests, and the second is that BSing any answer is a valuable life skill that will be used years after a student goes into "the real world." Multiple choice tests, on the other hand, never show up once you leave the classroom. An all around superior method of testing to see if a student has the required knowledge is to create a project where the student has to use the knowledge rather than testing their ability to recognize facts on the most shallow level imaginable. *sighs* Sorry for the rant, but as a former student I hate when teachers/administrations use techniques that make their lives easier while ensuring their students learn less.

Steve: Thank you for your brilliant and generous comment. Your point of view is really valuable and has increased my understanding in the area. I appreciate the time you've taken to clarify some of my venturings into the subject. This is really a very important educational theme which must not be overlooked, nor set aside for later. Respectfully, Hugo