Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Assessment Table of Contents/Assessment Chapter 2: Question Writing/Student Soapbox

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Assessment Chapter 2 Student Soap Box


Writing good multiple-choice questions is tricky. Writing good multiple-choice questions that require students to apply information, rather than just regurgitate information, is even trickier. But, it can be done.

Most high-stakes tests (Virginia's SOLs, the SAT, AP tests, most final exams) contain mostly, if not all, multiple choice questions. These tests aim to assess not just students' knowledge, but their ability to apply knowledge, in other words, their ability to reason.

Do you believe these tests do a good job of assessing students' reasoning skills? Why or why not?.


Add your response below under the appropriate heading ("Thumbs Up" or "Not So Hot"). Extra credit will be awarded to multimedia responses. Don't forget to sign your response with four tildes.

Thumbs Up[edit]

Yes, I believe standardized tests such as the SAT, AP test, and SOL do an excellent job measuring their preset objectives. The SAT sets out to measure aptitude, and the AP tests and SOL sets out to measure student achievement. The creators of these tests have extensive and significant background in how to test for understanding; they also have knowledge of statistics of how students perform in response to certain types of test questions with all of their various conceptual ingredients included. My only concern with the SOL is that there should be an additional score telling how the student did in comparison to the state average, because sometimes a simple pass/fall score can be misleading if the test is difficult for most students across the state. Mbrowder (talk) 15:55, 14 June 2009 (UTC)

I believe that in most of the SOL tests and on the SAT's the majority of the questions force students to use their reasoning skills. These questions are good indicators of what students not only know and understand, but how they can take that information an apply it to a real life example. Some of the time, however, these types of questions are used by teachers to trick their students. I disagree with this practice and think that stumping or tricking students in a test setting is a good way to lower the overall test scores. Despite the occasional obvious answer questions, most high stake tests encorporate a variety of question styles and formats, in order to keep the student on his or her toes. This type of test makes for a challenging way for students to show off their skills. Abeck017 (talk) 18:10, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I do not have a problem taking multiple choice tests. I have found myself doing "eenie meenie miny mo" to answer some questions. I think multiple choice questions can be a helpful tool to assess students knowledge.Msmhobbs04 (talk) 16:59, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I believe that if well written multiple choice can be a good form of assessment. If the questions deal with knowledge or reasoning I believe it can show application. We assess for different reasons. There are so many different ways to assess students, I think the teacher needs to mix it up a iittle.Aferg006 (talk) 05:43, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I think that a lot of times teachers use multiple choice because it is easy to grade. However, if they are good questions, then multiple chice can be a good form of assessment. Teachers should not ignore other forms of assessment. Rebecca.hechler (talk) 03:21, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I feel I am on the border with this question. I do not have a problem with multiple questions and using them to assess what student have learned. I do feel that in many cases the questions are not written well. Sometimes I wonder how the people writing the SOL and other tests are qualified. Overall though i do feel the multiple choice questions are the easiest and failry effective way of assessing knowledge. I believe no matter what the case may be of evaluating testing there is always going to be groups of people that like or dislike the format. I would also go on to say that not every test should be given as a multiple choice test and some should be given orally..written...or any other format. It is tough that every test we are given throughout education is a multiple choice test. I think the most disheartening part about them is I tell myself "the answer is right in from of me" and many times I still can't pick the right one :). Sston008 (talk) 16:14, 4 June 2009 (UTC)


I feel like multiple choice tests are a fine way to assess students. Personally, I believe one of the only reasons that so many students "hate" or "are terrible at" these types of tests is because, from a very young age, that is what we are conditioned by our peers to believe. In a test, multiple choice questions often do well in conjunction with fill-in-the-blank and short answer. Essays are not always a necessary or valid way to assess students. Frequently, it is common and easy for students to "fudge" their way through an essay, filling it with fluff and not facts, and still receiving a good grade. Done correctly, multiple choice questions can be very difficult. Take, for example, the questions from an AP exam. They are very tricky and have many answers that appear to be correct. These types of questions can only be correctly answered by a student who really knows the material. I went to a private school and never took SOLs so I don't really know how it's questions are, but I do know that all of the tests and exams that I took all through out elementary, middle, and high school (yes, I said elementary) included multiple choice questions that really assessed our knowledge. Sbutl016 (talk) 20:25, 3 June 2009 (UTC)


I think multiple choice tests can do a good job of assessing a student’s reasoning skills, IF the questions are well written. That’s the problem. In my experience, both as taking and creating test questions, too many of them are poorly worded or don’t test higher level thinking skills. I think the best exam for assessing a student’s reasoning skills though does not depend solely on multiple choice questions but contains a mix of true and false, multiple choice, and depending on the grade level, essay questions. The multiple choice questions seems to me to be the most fair in assessing a student’s knowledge because with true or false, the student has a 50/50 chance of getting the answer correct if they don’t know the information. Not all students express themselves well in writing on essay questions even if they thoroughly understand the learned concept. A well worded multiple choice question can eliminate the negatives of the true or false and essay question. Sciaston (talk) 18:00, 4 June 2009 (UTC)


I believe that multiple choice testing can be a good way to assess a student's reasoning skills. However, I do believe that students with specific learning disabilities or even a simple aversion to mutiple choice testing suffer greatly with this testing format. I assisted with the administration of this year's SOL tests at the elementary level. While walking around the room as a classroom proctor, I noticed that there seemed to be more application based questions on the test. It was imperative that the student read each question carefully. A question could mean one thing to one student and something else for another. Also, it appeared that students could easily overlook key information that would lead to an incorrect answer choice. Many teachers compain about "teaching to the test". I believe that good test taking strategies can assist students when they are deconstructing test questions. I must say that I am not a fan of the SOL tests, but I do believe that multiple choice tests with well written questions can be a good way to assess reasoning skills. Acrow005 (talk) 23:43, 4 June 2009 (UTC)


I am kind of in the middle between liking and disliking multiple choice questions. I believe that multiple choice testing is a good way to assess a student's reasoning skills, however I do believe that some students do not test well on standardized tests. I do prefer multiple choice tests personally over short answer, because I feel with multiple choice the process of elimination is available whereas with short answer you have to have completely memorized the information in order to get the answer correct. Multiple choice questions also allow for application questions, which I believe are important because it really tests whether the student knows the material or not. They can apply what they know to a novel situation, therefore expanding their knowledge of the concept itself. I know from personal experience that I do completely different on multiple choice exams in school than I do on standardized tests like the SAT for example. I believe that some students are not good with multiple choice tests in general. That is why I believe teachers need to provide variety in their testing methods, as well as with standardized testing through the use of matching, true/false, short answer and essay response. Also, each student interprets questions differently therefore what one student may feel is correct because of the way he/she reads it another student may interpret the question and come up with a completely different answer. Both students may interpret the question completely different than what the teacher had intended as well. That is why I am kind of on the fence with multiple choice and standardized testing, because although I do believe it is a good tool to measure student's reasoning skills, I also believe that confusion and misinterpretation can also take place. Rburt005 (talk) 01:25, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I have taken countless multiple choice questions based tests throughout my scholastic career. I believe that they not only assess the logistic knowledge of the student but really make the individual think outside the box... also known as testing the student's reasoning skills. Why? It's simple. For example, if a student is confident of an answer yet there are two others that also make sense and are logically correct, then it makes the student evaluate different standpoints and evaluate the questions from different angles. Multiple choice tests give the student the chance to not only show that they have studied the material at hand, but it tests their own logic. At the end of the day, if the student made the correct choice, not only will the person know the answer but it automatically becomes a subject that the person is confident to discuss and in my case, teach in the near future. Now, some multiple choice questions are very obvious and the answer shines bright between A, B, C or D.... in my opinion multiple choice is easier for students rather than writing a whole essay to answer one question. It's quick and to the point. Ehern004 (talk) 19:58, 6 June 2009 (UTC)

Yes, I believe multiple choice questions can assess a student's ability to reason. These questions provide multiple answers to consider. They do not allow the students to go with the first thing that comes to their mind. Therefore they need to be able to decide what is the most reasonable answer for the question. Multiple Choice Tests also help with test anxiety for students who are overwhelmed when faced with "fill in the blank" tests. By seeing the answers and being able to choose, their memory is prompted and hopefully anxiety is relieved. With the anxiety gone even poor test takers can reason through the choices, eliminate improbable answers and increase their chances of successfully demonstrating their knowledge. Jtmitchem (talk) 22:54, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


Being a product of the Virginia SOL's I can say that i think they are a pretty good measure of a students knowledge of the topic for the most part. They are worded in a way that the student is challenged enough to make the test worth while, while also allowing them to pass the test. As with almost everything there is a flip side. Which is that some teachers have started to try to just prepare their classes for just the test and not necessarily the next class that follows it in the students studies. So that is a negative. But overall i think that the tests are a very good thing. I know from a personal experience that I was doing poorly in the class itself because of the way the teaching style of the teacher, but when it came time for the sol I passed with an advanced marking. I think that the tests could use a little tweaking but overall they are pretty good. Rcoll029 (talk) 23:46, 6 June 2009 (UTC)

Not So Hot[edit]

While I do think that multiple chpice questions are good for long exams or timed exams I do not think they are the best way to assess the knowledge of the students. Multiple choice questions are often created in a negative form of a question such as " which of the following is not the best example of ...?" Of course this type of question does make the students think more before they answer, I believe that too many of these types of questions ultimately confuse the student. Simple fill in the blank questions are agreat way to assess knowledge or filling in a diagram or map that they have studied. If the information has been presented correctly and often throughout the lesson than fill in questions should be a great way to assess what has been learned.Jnemo001 (talk) 23:16, 26 June 2009 (UTC)




Noooo I really don’t think they do that good of a job in assessing a student’s knowledge base. So often on these tests I am thrown off by a word placed in a sentence that changes the entire meaning. I know I could do better by reading and rereading the choices given, and make a better decision sometimes…but when you are trying to hurry to finish a timed test you do what you can to pick what you think is right. Also, even instructors themselves call multiple choice tests “multiple guess” tests because that’s what we always do when we aren’t sure of an answer…you GUESS. If there are 4 questions, you have a ¼ chance of getting them right. Of course we can usually eliminate a choice or two that we know are wrong…so then the chances of getting a question right increase! There is no “sure fire” way to test students but I know we students get happy when we find out a test is multiple choice (or even better yet, true or false)! Ldomm002 (talk) 18:35, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I feel my whole life I have taken a number of tests and the majority of those tests were all multiple choice. I do not care for multiple choice tests very much, however, when they are all you take I guess you have to learn to like them or at least learn to live with them. I feel I am a strong writer and that may play a large role in why I do not love multiple choice tests. I feel more pressure when I know Im taking a multiple choice test. I thoroughly enjoy taking essay tests, however, I have not have too many classes that offered just that. I have had a variety of classes where it was a mixture of multiple choice, true false, and some essays, but hardly ever and just essay tests. My thoughts on this matter seem to match many of my peers. I also did not enjoy taking the SATs or the Praxis, but who really does enjoy those tests? At times I also felt the answer choices left me wondering which was the right answer, or I felt the question was not worded as clearly as it should have been when taking a test that is as serious as the Prxis or SATs. I felt the multiple choice tips were helpful to me, maybe if some of the creators of tests read these tips taking mulpitle choice tests would be more fun, probably not though.


After taking a number of SOL's, SATs, AP tests, etc., I would have to say that I do not think they are as effective as they could be. From my experience, it seems as though these test do not provide clear and concise questions/ answers. When taking these tests, many times I went into it feeling very confident; more often than not, I walked out feeling angry. It just seems like we spend so much time preparing for these exams and then most of what we study is not on the test or not at all the way we practiced. That could be a problem with the preparation or the testing, I'm not sure (maybe a mix of both). From hearing other teachers talk about the SOL's in particlular, I know that many of them are frustrated with the tests. A child could explain a concept and have a good knowledge base but the test has a way of phrasing questions that can be very misleading. I don't know much about what goes into making up these standardized tests, but I am almost certain that a group of highly trained people is in charge of writing the questions/answers. Maybe they should spend some time reviewing the article we just read that spells out the points to writing effective questions! Khedl002 (talk) 00:30, 3 June 2009 (UTC)


I understand the concept of having multiple choice tests used so frequently, however I can't say I am a huge fan of them. While taking the Praxis 1 tests, when I didn't know what the answer was I thought "at least I have a 25% chance of getting it right" and guessed. The Praxis 2 art test was extremely difficult because the multiple choice questions pertaining to artists gave an example of something the artist had created or a fact about the artist and then wanted you to pick which artist it was from the four artists listed. There are a million artists in this world, and even after taking six art history classes I had not heard of most of them on the test. These types of multiple choice questions were not helpful, because I was not given a list of artists I should study before taking the test, therefore I did not know what to prepare for. How can someone assess you on something you were not able to fully prepare for? Multiple choice questions either allow a student to "get lucky" for guessing the right answer or frustrate those that were not told how to prepare ahead of time. Hcogg001 (talk) 17:45, 2 June 2009 (UTC)


I would have to agree with some of the other posts and say I am not very impressed with the types of questions on tests such as SOL's, the SAT, AP exams and others. As much as I would have studied and prepared for these exams, most times after taking the exam I did not feel that I was as prepared as I should have been. Unfortunately, this hurt my confidence when walking into future exams. I think that many of the questions asked on these exams were not as effective as they could be. They are not always clear or concise, and many times the vocabulary or wording in the question confuses the test taker. Students can be very confident on a subject or concept, but they may have a hard time answeing the questions correctly if they cannot get past this misleading way the question is asked. I think that students should possibly be given better review material when preparing for these types of exams. However, I think it is interesting when you hear that on tests such as the SAT, it's not about how much knowledge you have, but about how you take the test. If this is true, then what is the point of knowledge and application questions? I would like to see most questions asked in a clearer way, maybe using some suggestions from the multiple choice article! Afett001 (talk) 01:10, 3 June 2009 (UTC)


I am not surprised at the other postings about the types of questions on standardized tests. I have taken my share of them as well and the one thing that I have learned is that some questions (that break the rules) are designed to help the test taker move quickly to get finished in the time allotted. I could be wrong but I strongly feel that they want you to discard x amount of answers right off the bat. It seemed that when I took the Praxis II and the PCAT that I always came down to two answers very quickly. I do agree with the article we read with the rule about not using only, except, or none!! My praxis II was full of them. They just do that to trick you up. I think they are testing your reading skills as well. This can be bad because you might know that answer to the information pertaining to the question but misread the question and miss it. My praxis II was filled with all of the above or none of the above as well. I am just very thankful that I passed mine and don't have to worry with it anymore. Hopefully these test will change the way they write their questions and it will help test takers in the future.:) Hcomb003 (talk) 16:40, 3 June 2009 (UTC)


Ooh…SOL’s and multiple-choice questions…not my favorite. Too often teachers spend their days teaching and drilling students with narrowed curriculum just to pass these high-stakes tests. In the process, they are losing students to daydreams and boredom. With relentless drilling and worksheets, teachers can only hope their students will regurgitate material enough to pass. Then what? We pray that our students will carry with them what they’ve learned, but for the most part information is lost because it was never engaging enough in the first place. It is a challenging task to test teach and provide students with enough hands-on explorations of subjects. Multiple-choice questions give students a chance to simply guess even when they have no clue of the correct answer. Then, they don’t even get the chance to go back and learn from their incorrect responses. These questions don’t really require any use of higher level, critical thinking abilities. We still teach test-taking methods for these types of questions, such as process of elimination, time management, and choice C. GRE study guides even focus on specific ways to just make an educated guess. The main problem is that students are only focused on memorization and not reasoning. They can memorize facts and then just dump them after their tests. Abitt002 (talk) 22:30, 3 June 2009 (UTC)


In answer to the proposed question of assessment and reasoning, I do not think multiple choice tests are a good platform to measure students reasoning. In a multiple choice test, the student picks one answer out of four usually, without leaving any indication of "why" they picked this particular answer. However, in an essay type test, the instructor can usually decipher the "reasoning" behind their answer because it is written out in paragraph form. This is also a great way to assess if the student has actually retained any of the information they have learned thus far. Keeping this in mind, the instructor needs to give the student clear and concise information prior to the test so that the student is aware and understands what they are required to do and why it is necessary for them to give answers to particular questions (for assessment purposes).Scarlett1 (talk) 03:36, 5 June 2009 (UTC)

Ok... multiple choice question exams, for the most part I dislike them. These exams can be very good in assesing students knowledge and reading skills depending on if the students were given the correct tools to approach the test. After taken a number of these test I still find them confusing with wrding that is not common and sentence frasing that sometimes traps you. I think that it is harder for students to approach these test. It is important for teachers to teach very well the process of elimination and association of problem solving thinking to be able to approach these test with confidence. Allot of times when I felt confident about the material after taking one of these test my mind set had completely changed. I myself preffer question test where I can just give my answer depending on what I have learned. I feel that the curriculums that teach skills only aiming to pass these type of exams disable the abily of students to answer questions in an informative written way. Bpenn005 (talk) 13:35, 5 June 2009 (UTC)


I think that most multiple choice tests do a fairly well job of assessing students' knowledge as well as their ability to apply that knowledge. This all depends on who is writing the questions. If someone has the ability to write good multiple choice questions, then there is no problem. However, it is hard to get a good balance between knowledge and application, difficulty, and content. My problem with the SOL's is not the questions themselves. It is the extreme pressure put on the students and teachers to pass these tests. Teachers spend so much time worrying about these tests that are not always doing their students justice. The students never get detailed feedback, so they never even learn what mistakes they may have made. I don't think that standardized tests are always beneficial, especially when the stakes are high and the pressure is on to pass. Alucy001 (talk) 00:43, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I used to be all for multiple choice questions– and sometimes when I feel really haggard, or that I understudied, I rejoice upon seeing them. However, I'm skeptical over if it's the best form of assessment. There can be effective multiple choice tests, I'm sure– but there could have been a much better short answer/brief essay test in its place that had the student get more involved with the content they're supposed to be learning. Multiple choice is the least thought provoking, interactive test type. It has its time and place, and unfortunately that makes them irregular for English majors. What it boils down to is: I don't ever get the luxury of taking them anymore, so no one else should either. Hsmit022 (talk) 01:13, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


I feel that this type of multiple-choice can cause the student to be confused and second guess themselves. The wording of the questions and corresponding answers if not done properly can be more confusing. Short answer and essay, I feel these are the best way to know what has been learned by the student and their ability to apply it. Correctly answering “tricky” multiple-choice questions I feel really only shows the student’s ability to think like the question writer. (So many thoughts are running through my head right now). Scantrons have made this style of testing too easy and is used way too often, classes are too big and teachers don’t always have the time needed to test any other way, and SOL’s ……………… Mlipl001 (talk) 02:16, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


Speaking specifically from a mathematical perspective, I believe that multiple choice tests do not fully assess a student's knowledge, especially if the student's work or method is not accounted for. The right answer should not be the only thing that matters. To achieve a passing score on the Algebra 1 SOL a student must correctly answer about 25 out of the 50 questions correctly. Since there are 4 answer choices for each question, a student has a 25% chance to answer every question correctly. That means that out of 50 questions, a student should be able to answer 13 just by guessing randomly. Therefore, the Algebra 1 SOL, and any math SOL for that matter, only requires a student to know how to do 12 problems, at most, to pass. This is an outrage. Not to mention that most of the SOL questions have been dumbed down so far that either: the calculator will give the student the answer without them having the slightest clue, or that the student can simply plug in possible answer choices and still have not clue about the process to solve the problem. In short, I believe that the math SOL especially should NOT be multiple choice. Math is an applied knowledge subject, yet the state of VA has succeeded in taking any thought out of mathematics. ( I just finished my first year teaching Algebra 1 part 2 to repeat students, very few of which knew any basic arithmetic or logic, yet all of them passed their Algebra 1 SOL using the state sanctioned T1-83. Is that really learning?)Scrai010 (talk) 15:41, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


Okay, I get the "reasoning" part already. I understand that it is both critical and beneficial to a student to apply information they've learned. However, as much as I feel prepared for multiple choice test, I feel more times than not...they do me in! I can recall instances where I've been able to answer the question in my head but battle between two or more answers on the page. Though, I'm not completely against multiple choice, I'm just adverse to test where it's the only format offered. I'm aware of this tactic of "reasoning" but I think it's nonsense! I could better support my answer through writing vs. reasoning between several explanations. Therefore, I don't believe this should be the primary method for assessing students! Rpaige (talk) 16:38, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


Multiple choice tests can sometimes be a blessing or curse, depending on a student’s level of confidence, knowledge and reasoning. I have taken many tests where the multiple choice section almost served as notes within the test, because I could use some of the answers for the application or reasoning questions. While this can be a very useful strategy for students, it can also be just as harmful if they answer the multiple choice questions wrong. Another flaw with this method is that if teachers assess a student based on this, and the student does poorly, the teacher’s most likely assumption is that the student does not know any of the material at all. This may be true for many students, but no all of them; some students are simply not comfortable or cannot perform on multiple choice tests. It may be even worse, if the multiple choice questions are ineffective, just as in the article by Timothy W. Bothell. It is ultimately the student’s responsibility to study for a test, however, it is also the teacher’s responsibility to create an effective test.

Knowledge is an important aspect to assess students on but so is their ability to reason. The facts and concepts they learned from lecture almost become useless if students do not know how to apply them, especially in scenarios when they are required in daily life. Unfortunately, many high-stakes test, such as the Virginia’s Standards of Learning, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, Advanced Placement tests and many other exams, consist of at least 50% of multiple choice, which does not demonstrate if the student truly understands the content of the exam. Another issue of application questions or assessing students’ reasoning skills is that most of the time, they are presented in a written format. For students who have a high level of linguistic skills, who learn by looking and writing things down, this is very beneficial for them because the test are almost planned for them. Even students who are verbal, or like to listen and talk while learn, can benefit from these types of tests because they can quietly read the questions to themselves to come to an answer. However, for the group of students who learn hands-on, or kinesthetically, they are at a severe disadvantage because the test leaves little to no room for them to fully use their strengths. The only time they can use their kinesthetic skills is when they do science laboratory activities. I am not saying that during high-stakes test, schools should start having full scale lab activities. At the same time, they can include their hands-on student by providing objects that demonstrate, or apply, the concepts that they know. For example, if a class was doing an exam and one of the questions dealt with the distribution of energy, the teacher would give each student a Newton’s cradle. Students would not have to use the cradle, unless the question requires the use of it. However, if a hands-on student can recall an answer by using the cradle, the test levels the playing field for all students. Just as teachers provide differentiated instruction for students with special needs, they should also do the same for students with different learning styles. Adart001 (talk) 18:39, 6 June 2009 (UTC)

Assessment is one of the ways that we make sure that the information that has been taught is understand and retained. I find that multiple choice assessments do not fully take into consideration the people who are not good test takers. Some test have so much volume that it is stressful for the test takers. In my experience, I understand that by the end of a test I am not reading the questions fully because I just want the test to end! That means that I have to force myself to focus and make sure that I take my time. I also have found that some people can describe and apply knowledge in different formats other than taking a written test. We are all not standard learners and assessment should be required but possibly given in other ways rather than multiple choice formats. I do not think that they correctly assess everyone. Jnewh001 (talk) 19:48, 6 June 2009 (UTC)


No, in most cases I do not think multiple-choice questions are the best way to assess a student’s knowledge. They are merely, as most things in life, the simplest and most efficient way. Not nearly the best. True practical application is always the best assessment of one’s knowledge, whether this means writing an essay, mixing chemicals, doing complex calculations (and showing your work), or landing a plane, all of these involve the use of actual skills. A multiple choice test is a second hand application of those skills that can approximate one’s knowledge but never their actual talent for applying that knowledge. Let me put it this way, I would never let someone fly a plane, cut me open, or create a new type of rocket fuel, based solely on test scores. Test scores, in my opinion, are simply convenient approximations, and are highly effected by things like, test anxiety, test taking skills, and the quality of the questions, multiple choice tests are especially influenced by these factors. BitterAsianMan (talk) 20:53, 6 June 2009 (UTC)