Multiple-choice questioning is a popular form of assessment that has been widely used in educational settings for decades. While multiple-choice questions are easy to grade and score, they also have cons, making them suitable for some types of assessments and not for others.

Pros of Multiple Choice Questioning:

  • Ease of Grading: One of the biggest advantages of multiple-choice questions is that they are easy to grade and score. Since the options are pre-determined, the answer can be quickly checked against the correct response. This is especially useful in large classrooms where a teacher may not have enough time to grade each answer individually.
  • Objectivity: Multiple choice questions are considered to be more objective than other types of questions. This is because the answer is pre-determined, reducing the potential for subjective grading.
  • Versatility: Multiple choice questions can be used to assess a wide range of topics, making them suitable for many different types of assessments. Whether it is a science test or a history exam, multiple-choice questions can be tailored to suit the subject matter.
  • Time-Saving: Multiple choice questions can be completed relatively quickly, making them ideal for time-sensitive assessments. This is particularly useful for exams where time constraints are a factor.

Cons of Multiple Choice Questioning:

  • Limited Assessment Capabilities: Multiple-choice questions are limited in their ability to assess a student’s understanding of a subject. Since the answer is pre-determined, students are not able to elaborate on their thoughts or provide a more in-depth explanation of their knowledge.
  • Potential for Guesswork: Multiple-choice questions can encourage guesswork, especially when students are unsure of the answer. This can result in inaccurate results and a misleading representation of the student’s understanding of the material.
  • One-Dimensional: Multiple-choice questions are one-dimensional, meaning that they only assess one aspect of a student’s understanding of the material. This can result in a limited understanding of the student’s overall grasp of the subject.
  • Memorization vs. Understanding: Multiple-choice questions can also encourage memorization rather than true understanding of the material. This is because students may be able to correctly answer a question without truly understanding the concepts behind it.

I have a strong feeling about multiple-choice, more of a hate/love relationship. I feel it can encourage too much guessing and doesn’t give enough valid data on what a student has truly learned. I saw this in my classroom, usually with the students who struggle the most.

Students who were secure in their knowledge of the subject area will do fine, no matter the questioning format. I see this so much with my own son’s struggles in school. When given a multiple-choice test, more often than not, he’ll just make a guess, sometimes not even bothering to read the questions! In creating work for him, I always avoid using multiple choice, except in limited situations. When given a short answer question, he is much more apt to look for the answer using context or work the problem out for himself. If the option to guess is there, he’ll always choose it, and he’ll keep guessing until he’s eliminated the three wrong answers. Yes, he’ll eventually get the correct answer, but does that show he knew the content or was just successful at guessing?

I know multiple choice can be a huge time saver for the teacher. It is much quicker and easier to correct papers with multiple choice rather than written answers, but is it the right choice? What is our ultimate objective? To know the student understood and learned what we were teaching, right? How can we be sure that the objective was met with multiple-choice? Was the answer from retained knowledge or a lucky guess?

There are some cases (when done correctly) where I think M/C is fine. In a math problem for instance:

The problem on the left is wrong because the most common mistake a student will make in this instance is the misuse of PEDMA. The student will work the problem from left to right and end up with 6 for the answer. If this is one of the answer options, they will choose it and move on, not having any idea that they made a mistake. If they worked the problem in this manner, and 6 was not an option, they would know a mistake was made and go back to check their work. Of course, the guesser, who doesn’t even work out the problem, could guess in either case, but usually, a student will stop to take a closer look. I am not an advocate for tricking students. and in this example, that is exactly what is happening. It’s much less discouraging to a child to rework to find a correct answer than to get a test back that they failed due to being tricked!

One of the primary resources I offer is novel studies.  In my novel studies, there are only two places where you will find multiple-choice options. First, the vocabulary quiz, where the sentence including the targeted word is given, along with four choices for students to choose the definition. Again, there are the guessers who will guess anything, but most students will be able to decipher the correct definition of the word used in context after the successful completion of the novel study activities.

The other multiple-choice option I offer is parts of a comprehension quiz. I try to balance multiple-choice and short-answer questions to best gauge students’ understanding of the novel and to address higher-order thinking questioning for rigor.

I only use short-answer questions in the daily comprehension portion of the novel study itself. I feel very strongly that while reading the book, the student should be thinking deeply about what they’re reading. Using multiple-choice for comprehension during the reading of the novel encourages the student to skim the text for the answer. It also means most of your questioning will be recall level, the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I use novel studies to get away from the more superficial reading that students encounter with basal series activities. My goal in using novel studies is to get my student engaged in a novel, to think deeply about the character’s motives, make inferences, point of view, plot, foreshadowing, etc. I don’t believe this can be accomplished by using multiple-choice questions. I feel this adds rigor and integrity to my novel studies. I know there are some buyers who are disappointed in this stance, and I know that some buy from my competitors looking for something quick and easy, but it’s a core value that I feel very strongly about.

Multiple-choice questioning can be an effective method of assessment when used correctly and in the proper context. However, this style of questioning should not be relied upon as the sole method of assessment due to its limitations. To achieve a well-rounded understanding of a student’s knowledge and abilities, a combination of different types of questioning should be used, including open-ended questions and essay-style assessments.

Another reason I stay away from multiple-choice testing is it is far too similar to standardized testing, which I am not a fan! Mainly for all the reasons stated above. I want my students to be deep thinkers, not guessers. Of course, the whole topic of standardized testing is a post for another day! 😉