Re-Imagining Multiple Choice Tests

Keith Nickson M.S.W.
Professor, George Brown College, Toronto
8th Annual ACESS Conference, Thunder Bay, On.
Some Thoughts on Teaching:
c/o Chris Napper, Queen’s University
 Vs. Deep Learning
 “Incorporating new ideas
Surface or Rote Learning
“Memorizing main points,
has some value…but
students are primarily
motivated by a fear of
with existing knowledge,
and new experiences,
changing the model I’m
working with.”
 Heavy workload =
surface learning
{Mr. Bloom’s Taxonomy}
 Remember
 Understand
 Analyze
 Apply
 Evaluate
 Create
MC tests mostly focus on…
 Remembering:
The lowest ‘order’ of learning
How can we make the tests
move up to ‘application’?
Teaching S. Work =
Integration of theory and
practice = application,
higher order of learning
than mere remembering
“Every learning activity, every
evaluation should be
designed to help our
students practice the skills
they will use in their jobs.
Evaluations should match
course outcomes.”
Anne Vandevelde, M.Ed
Curriculum Specialist
George Brown
Knapper’s Ideas
Research on College Teaching and Learning: ‘What We Know’ (2004)
Active Learning
Assessing Student Work
“The greatest responsibility of
the teacher is not the
communication of subject
matter content, but the selection
and design of appropriate
learning tasks.”
“Assessment is most effective
when it is done fairly frequently,
when feedback is provided
quickly, and is constructive…
“Mastery and transfer are most
effective when the tasks set
closely replicate what the
learner will encounter in life
and work situations beyond the
“To use assessments as a way of
motivating students, the
assignments need to be
challenging enough to demand
effort and creativity, while not so
hard that students will give up
Do MC Tests Meet These Criteria?
Do they reach into Bloom’s upper
 A Manual for Authors of M. Choice Testbanks
 By David DiBattista, Brock U, 2008/3M Teaching Fellow
 (posted at
 Claim:
 ‘Not just memory being tested but also higher order
cognitive processes’
M Choice Tests: Context
 Why are they popular?
 Quick, reliable, more
 Most widely used objective
assessment tool used in
N. America
questions can be answered,
more material covered,
marking not affected by
handwriting, favoritism…&
publishers supply them.
 Many students like them
Study by DiBattista
•How we view MC tests
•Is memory enough?
 90% of faculty believed MC
tests measured the ability to
remember information
 Less than 50% think it
measures higher order
cognitive processes
 “If assessment tasks are to tap
into higher order cognitive
processes, students must not
be able to rely on memory
A Couple of Questions…
 Can MC tests tap into ‘higher order’ learning
 How can we make MC tests a learning experience as
well as an evaluation of what’s been learned…..
 …In the way that essays, group assignments,
presentations combine learning and demonstration of
Maryellen Weimer: Editor,
The Teaching Professor
 “With evaluation, we
need to move from
testing memory to a
combination of testing
and learning.”
 “Essays and group
projects engage a range
of learning processes, so
doing MC tests in the
same way makes them a
richer experience.”
 “But always give students
a rationale for doing MC
tests differently.”
Maryellen’s Options
 30 mins, do test alone
 Put students into pairs or
groups of 3
 30 mins, do same test in
 Marking:
 Higher mark counts or:
 Combine divide by 2
 Crib/cheat sheets
OK for part of test
What Keith does…
 Students told to pair up
ahead of time or choose
to write test alone
 Students encouraged to
work as a small study
group to prep for test
 Cheat sheet sometimes
 1st 30 mins alone
 2nd 30 mins in pairs or
 Each student submits
one scantron: they can
disagree on a question
Other Options…
 Students use cheat
 Review Week Before:
sheets, work alone
 In groups, students write
 Open book for 2nd half
of test period
one MC question each
based on one section of
course/text and post
 Then go round room in
their group, trying to
answer each question
using their text
The Benefits…
 Less cheating; students know
they can chat in 2nd part
 Incentive to work in small
study groups, deepens
learning and improves
 Choice: can work alone
 Allows for more ‘higher order’
questions, more case study,
application questions & less
straight memory work
 Focus less on stats/numbers,
more on challenging concepts
 Questions can be more
 In pairs: students teach each
other, debate the answers
 Shift from memorizing to
‘deeper’ learning
What the Best College Teachers Do
Ken Bain (2004)
 “The outstanding
teachers used
assessment to help
students learn, not just
rate and rank their
 “Not all teachers
followed the same
practices, but they often
broke with
convention…every act
centers around and
ultimately springs from a
concern for student
Your ‘lower order’ MC Questions
 A. True
 #1. In DiBattista’s study,
more than 50% of those
surveyed said that MC
tests have the potential
to measure higher order
cognitive processes.
 B. False
 “The responsibility of the
teacher is not to
information but to
design learning tasks.”
 Who said this?
 A. Maryellen Weimer
 B. Chris Napper
 C. David DiBattista
 All of the above

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