Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mutiple choice exams: Just the facts?

Is the purpose of learning memorizing facts, or is it something more diverse, like gaining the ability to use the information we are given? Multiple choice exams serve a purpose, but the folly of simply administering multiple choice exams is that we are just testing the student's ability to memorize. There is so much beyond the facts that we miss out on.

Lets take a look at Bloom's taxonomy of learning:
  • Remember: This is simply the ability to memorize. 
  • Understand: ability to conceptualize.
  • Apply: ability to use the information we are given.
  • Analyze: ability to take apart the information we are given.
  • Evaluate: ability to make judgments of the information.
  • Synthesis: ability to recreate or reconstruct from the information we took apart.
Multiple choice exams, while efficient and easy to grade, quite often they only test the students ability to regurgitate information. I'm not saying we can't test students in all these areas, but it can be a challenge to create a test that effectively does so.

Some examples of multiple choice questions that might test students beyond rote memorization:
  • Understand: Why does the area of a rectangle equal length times height?
  • Apply: Use a calculator to determine the square root of four.
  • Analyze: Given two buckets of equal size and the same amount of water, which would drain faster, a bucket with one hole that is two inches in diameter or a bucket with two holes that are each one inch in diameter.
  • Evaluate: Which theorem would be best to use to determine the hypotenuse of an angle?
  • Synthesis: Would best be used as an essay question.
A multiple choice exam with follow up essay questions can be beneficial because we are testing the students in knowledge of the facts and then giving them an opportunity to justify their responses. A true or false question would also be answered as either true or false with an explanation of why it is either false.

Why it is important to test beyond the facts:
Can you imagine
  • a teacher that knows their students are failing, but can't figure out why?
  • or a doctor that knows what a stethoscope is, but not know how to use it?
  • or an engineer that knows the definition of the Pythagorean theorem, but doesn't know to use it to figure out the slope of a roof?
  • or an auto mechanic that knows that some cars are carbureted and some are fuel injected, but can't figure out why your car is idling rough?
  • or a musician that knows that a there are four quarter notes per measure, but can't write a song?

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