Good bye multiple choice! Good bye?

I happily said sayonara to multiple choice tests this year in my Biology 12 classes. In their place I moved to paragraph style questions that focused on bigger picture concepts. In the past I had produced tests that were 50 multiple choice and 25 marks of short answer questions. I found over the years that many students could often blow the multiple choice out of the water but struggle on written questions. There were many reasons I decided to make this change but my 3 main reasons were:

1.  Emphasis on the enduring understandings of the course and move away from the trivia and regurgitation cycle.

2. Offer students re-assessments opportunities quickly and easily. Yes, I have heard of Moodle, but this seems best suited to multiple choice testing and I wanted to stick with emphasizing the big picture understandings (see 1. !)

3. Students over the years had communicated that written questions had enhanced their understanding of Biology. The process of preparing and writing the test had been useful to their actual long-term understanding.

As I transitioned this year to a full flipped classroom with my Biology 12 classes I had wanted to move away from “points collection” assessments and move towards standards based grading. When the BC government announced the end of provincial exams over the summer, the door to change opened. I started out full on board trying SBG (standards based grading) in September but backed away from it as we hit some bumps in the road as students and I transitioned into the flipped class.

So after 4 solid months of trying this “no more multiple choice” experiment I have noticed the following:

Advantages
1. All test materials can be returned to students. I dislike it when students don’t get to see their tests so teachers can keep the test bank out of circulation. To me it is blatantly obvious that the only purpose of the test is to allow the teacher to collect points and not for the student to learn.
2. Time to make a test up is greatly reduced.
3. Less paper used to photocopy tests.
4. Cheating and or copying is almost impossible.
5. Student can rock the test and receive 100% on the tests.
6. I have a better understanding of what students know and what they are struggling with. The conversations I have with students have become more meaningful as now we are discussing a question of some depth rather than arguing about the meaning of a multiple choice question.
7. Students are preparing for tests several days in advance of the test as they realize that cramming does not translate into a quality written answer.
8. Students have FINALLY started to catch on to the idea of re-assessment and some are coming in to do the first unit again. I like that ALL the learning outcomes are on the learning table ALL semester long. I see that for some students the light is now going on and they are excited to challenge the material again.

Disadvantages
1. Longer to mark (I would like to have students get more involved in this process and decrease my role as “marker in chief”).
2. Some students lack skills for quality written work. Perhaps using a laptop might off set some of this and will consider this possibility next semester.
3. Students (especially grade 12’s) have a high level of skill around points acquisition strategies but fewer deep learning skills. This discovery was an eye opener for me!  Due to the lack of skills some students were frustrated and angered by this change in assessment practices  (I can’t blame them only help them to transition). The students want to “play points”; they do not like or understand “the rules of learning” so well.
4. Students needed to develop new study strategies. Many of them were memorizing demons who live to cram the night before. I will spend more time on this right at the start of the next semester.
5. Students that know nothing have nowhere to hide! This is both good and bad, but it is hard on some students. Again, I hope that next time through I can help students work on the skills they need to be successful consistently throughout.

Next steps.
I am still not sure about how to perfectly determine if students have an understanding of a concept in an efficient, fair and reasonable manner. I do know that making this change has given me insight into how student view their learning. The most startling realization from this change was how addicted to points I was and as a consequence how this influenced students. I do know that points are something I want to move away from and find a way to communicate what students have learned specific to the curriculum and to more importantly pin point where they are struggling.

What do you think? Can we do away with multiple choice or are they still a useful assessment tool?


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2 thoughts on “Good bye multiple choice! Good bye?

  1. Thanks for this post. I just recently flipped my class and have been toying with the idea of doing away with multiple choice exams. I personally hate them, and never had such an exam within my discipline in college..so why am I assessing my students this way? I teach in Massachusetts and I’m hoping eventually our state exams will be done away with. One of the disadvantages you mentioned that I can see with my students would be that they have no idea how to “study” they only know how to cram. Have you noticed as you’ve changed your assessment style your students have adapted? Also I too would be interested in finding a way to get them more involved in the grading process.

    Thanks for the blog, I’m enjoying reading another teachers journey in flipping!

    • Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your comment and readership. I am excited to hear that you have just flipped your classes, hope it goes well for you. I found the first semester of flipping very challenging, but second time through is much easier.
      Yes agree with you, students are great at cramming and memorizing, and have to develop different study techniques. Most students seem to adapt quickly and see the “bigger picture” focus as a better representation of what they really know. Whereas multiple choice can easily misrepresent what they know really well. So overall it was a bit of a transition but one that I think students enjoyed when all was said and done. I agree about getting students involved with the assessment process is crucial, that is the next piece to this assessment puzzle I would like to add.
      I would be interested to hear how your transition goes and if you decide to drop multiple choice questions,
      happy flipping,
      best,
      Carolyn

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