Multiple choice misses mark

By Matthew Radecke

I’m sure most of us have dealt with this scenario before; the absent-minded drool that leaks from the corner of our mouths as we stare at the questions of a test with no clue of what the answer might be. 

But lo and behold, answer ‘C’ has been staring back at us the whole time, a stark reminder of the content that oozed out of our ears the moment we went to sleep.

When the process of elimination fails me, which it often does, I’m left confused and conflicted between multiple answers that look nearly identical to the unfocused eye.

That is just one reason that I strongly believe multiple choice questions to be less effective in a learning environment than open-ended questions. 

If academic tests are designed to measure our understanding of a subject, then why are we instead being scored for our ability to memorize the answers? 

Far too often I have stumbled across a poorly designed multiple choice question with two or more similar answers that are easily interpreted in the same way. 

Whether you understand the content or not, the key to success in instances like this is to vomit out the exact information that you read in whatever textbook or PowerPoint your teacher provided. 

But I could easily memorize a sentence from a book without understanding what it means. In addition to these questions being counterproductive, they do nothing to promote critical thinking or deeper learning.

I’m not the first person to put multiple choice exams under fire, and I certainly won’t be the last. 

In 2023, Joseph Evanick, assistant professor of medical education at the Geisinger College of Health Sciences, wrote that multiple choice exams aren’t equipped to challenge higher order thinking skills like “analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information.” 

Without a truly deeper understanding of the content, many students simply memorize whatever information is required for the test and retain none of it.

Students are being scored based on their ability to identify an answer, while their comprehension of the question is dismissed. 

Some instructors try to combat this with “trick questions” where the question is distorted to trip up any test takers that let their guard down too soon. 

When the test taker answers with “the cat jumped over the ceiling” rather than “the cat jumped over the roof,” the instructor will sit back and laugh maniacally as they think about how clever they are. 

To those instructors, all I would say is congratulations. Despite the odds, you managed to confuse someone who quite literally depends on you for clarity in the subject you teach.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.