Are Multiple Choice Questions Good For Assessments and Learning?
- May 9, 2019
- Posted by: SumLogix Team
- Category: Psychology
Multiple choice questions or MCQs are used very frequently for assessments and learning. This is mainly because MCQs are easy to grade. Many math websites use MCQs for practicing basic math skills. While MCQs are convenient, we believe that their use as an assessment tool might not reveal the true picture of a child’s understanding of concepts and their use as a learning tool does not do much to enhance a child’s learning.
The three major issues with MCQs are:
1. Ability to guess and use answer choices to determine the correct answer.
2. Use of recognition rather than recall to determine the correct answer.
3. Lack of ability to show reasoning or work on a math problem.
Ability to Guess and Use Answer Choices to Find the Answer
When a child is given the answer choices, by default, he or she knows that one of the answer choices is correct. The student can follow various strategies to find the correct answer or at a minimum narrow down the choices and increase the probability of getting the right answer. For example, often times certain answer choices can be eliminated easily based on common sense and logic. Other times, the answer choices can be used to figure out the correct answer. For example, instead of solving a linear equation and finding the value of X, a student could enter the various possible values of X that are given as the answer choices, and find the one for which the equation is true.
In addition to being able to eliminate or use the answer choices, children can also guess an answer. This is even more likely to happen if there is no penalty for guessing. Depending on the type of question, the probability of getting the answer correct can be as high as 50% (e.g., true/false questions).
Use of Recognition Rather than Recall
Multiple choice questions or any other questions where the answer choices are given, such as, true/false and matching lists, use the process of recognition. On the other hand, essay type questions and short answer questions, or any other questions where the answer choices are not given, use the process of recall. Recall and recognition are the processes we use to get the information that we need to answer a question, from our memory.
A search on the internet for recall vs. recognition will yield several articles that outline the differences between the two types of processes. In recognition, the answer choices provide cues that lead a child to the correct answer. In recall, a child does not have any cues and has to dig deeper into his or her memory to retrieve information that he or she needs to answer a question. Since recognition is easier than recall, MCQs are considered to be easier than short answer questions.
Lack of ability to show reasoning or work on a math problem
Since a child cannot show his or her reasoning or work on an MCQ, it is hard to conclusively say whether a child knows a concept or not. A calculation error might lead to the wrong answer even if the child knows the concept. Similarly, since a child does not have to write down their reasoning or show their work, it is hard to tell whether a child actually understood a concept or just made a good guess. An assessment where a child has to show his or her reasoning and work offers a lot more insights into what a child knows or does not know.
Problems With Using MCQs for Assessment and Learning
Using MCQs for an assessment might not give you a clear picture of whether a child actually knows a concept or not. You would not know if a child guessed, worked backwards using the answer choices, or followed some other clever strategy to get to the answer.
Similarly, using MCQs for learning is not ideal. Use of recognition process does not promote development of recall memory. For example, if a child does not know his or her multiplication facts, but is given the answer choices with every multiplication question, he or she might be able to use recognition to get to the correct answer. However, this does not mean that the child will be able to recall his multiplication facts later on and will be able to proceed comfortably to the next level of math.
Finally, without seeing the work or reasoning behind a correct or an incorrect answer, it is next to impossible to identify any gaps in understanding.
In conclusion, MCQs should be used very carefully for assessment and sparingly for learning. We believe that short answer questions are the best way to learn since these types of questions require the recall of concepts. Continuous use of recall ensures that children retain and understand key concepts and are able to solve advanced problems. The learning can be further enhanced by asking children to show their reasoning or work. As children progress from schooling years to college and then to a workplace, it is likely that they will encounter problems which are open-ended and require them to recall and apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems. The sooner a child is exposed to more and more recall type questions, the better it is for the child.