Multiple Choice Tests: Are They Accurate?

I often hear the excitement and relief from students when they hear that their upcoming exam will be multiple choice. The joys of not being required to write something out in a paragraph format, the ability to make an educated guess and so on (though, what it really comes down to is a lack of confidence in their ability to take an essay exam; a problem solved with the help of an Orange County private tutor). But how accurate are multiple choice tests?

tutornerds-mutliple-choice-testingMany educators and testing advocates argue that multiple choice, also known as selected-response tests, are fairer than open ended answer tests because the human element is removed. In a multiple choice exam, a grader can’t grade up or down based on a personal bias (READ: “The End of Pencil-and-Paper Exams?“). In fact, the tests are graded by a machine. The machine couldn’t care less what personal factors a student might represent. (READ: “Coping With Stress as a Teen“)

However, it is reasonable to argue that there is a human element in multiple choice exams. Humans select the paragraphs or excerpts or math problems that the test-takers read, humans select the ‘correct’ or the ‘best’ answer, and humans also choose the wrong answers, sometimes called “distracters”. Humans also decide how many questions need to be answered in order for a student to receive a passing grade and how many right answers constitute an ‘excellent’ grade. Humans also decide how many points each questions is worth and which questions are considered ‘easy’, or ‘difficult’.

The benefits of multiple choice tests

1. Multiple choice exams can compare several students to several other students from across the nation, thus creating a standard.

2. Multiple choice tests help teachers and administrators know which facts students are retaining in their brains and which facts they are not.

3. Multiple choice tests help determine if a student has memorized information.

4. Multiple choice exams are a good way to measure basic math skills. For example, 2 + 2 will always be “4”, there is no room for interpretation.


The disadvantages of multiple choice tests

1. Many students have learned how to ‘beat the test’ (and if you haven’t, it’s time to get a test prep tutor), meaning that they may not fully comprehend the information that they are being tested on. Although some students will consider this aspect of such exams to be an advantage- because it is to the student- it is not actually an advantage of the test itself.

2. Multiple choice tests generally don’t utilize critical thinking skills (a skill that the new common core standards highly emphasize). A successful test-taker should be able to recall an answer but they are not necessarily required to actually think about the answer or the questions that are being presented. (Let our in-home Irvine test prep tutors help with your kid’s critical thinking skills)

3. Multiple choice exams have been criticized for not being able to genuinely test the skills of any higher thinking task such as reading comprehension or analyzing a text. Because many passages and essays leave room for interpretation, there is always a best answer but not necessarily a good answer.

4. Long multiple choice exams, such as the SAT and ACT, can result in test fatigue and cause the student to accidentally choose the incorrect answer.

5. The format has been criticized as tedious and may not examine the full understanding, or lack of understanding, of a particular topic or subject. (CLICK: FairTest “Multiple Choice Tests”)

The reality is that all students who want t go to college will take at least one multiple choice exam; those wishing to attend graduate school (yes, we have graduate school consultants here to help!) will take at least one more, and the majority of students will take a multiple choice exam at least once a month from grade 2 to grade 12. That is a lot of multiple choice tests!

student-studying-memoryWhether we like it or not, multiple choice exams are here to stay- at least for now- and we all have to take them. Understanding a subject in its entirety and being able to critically analyze information is a highly valuable skill that teachers and tutors can help students with. Long, multiple choice, standardized exams, however, are best conquered by learning what the test is actually asking for, learning which answers are trick answers, and learning which answer is the best answer.So many students are becoming more and more frustrated with the amount of tests they have to take in school or for school, but if they are multiple choice, there is definitely hope.

Learn how to win a high score, get that awesome GPA and move on to additional learning and critical thinking. Private tutors from TutorNerds can help eliminate, or at least reduce, the frustrations of an increasing number of multiple choice exams, especially that really big one that can help determine the direction of your future.

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