Ask me any question and after a long week of science revision my answer will probably be a letter. And I’m not talking element symbols or formulae such as Au (gold) or NaCl (salt), I mean simply: A,B,C, or D.
For my science modular external examinations, I had three papers of 24 questions, 20 minutes and 4 possible answers. It may sound like a Saturday night quiz show but I can assure you it certainly wasn’t. Nobody was sitting on the edge of their seats, shouting out the obvious answers at the mentally deficient contestants. Not only would that be forbidden under exam conditions but the answers were not that simple.
You would think that with only one question and four different answers to select it would be much easier than coming up with your own responses. In a way it is, as you do not have to have full knowledge of technical terms or scientific lingo and you may sometimes get away with just having a general idea of the meaning of a word and working it out by an elimination process. However, the presence of three incorrect, correct-sounding answers usually only serves to confuse you, making you second-guess yourself and doubt what you thought you knew for certain.
The thing with multiple choice papers is that as soon as you think you are looking at the right answer, you read the next one which is exactly the same with only one slight, hardly noticeable difference. Which do you choose? Perhaps you have a lucky letter that you always choose when in doubt or a rhyme that you sing? If that doesn’t seem to be working most people (or maybe just me), will end up searching for a pattern in their answers; two Bs followed by an A and a C. The worst thing that can happen to you is if you end up with the same letter repeated more than 3 times. Then you know you have chosen the wrong answer somewhere. Yes, it could be a coincidence but it still makes you feel nervous .
I am not complaining, or maybe I am, but is it even a fair way of assessing skill?In every question there is a 25% chance that you are right .You could walk in to the exam with absolutely no knowledge of the subject and pass just because you were having a lucky day. On the other hand, you could be having a bad day and by choosing a few wrong letters you secure yourself a D. Luck should not be a determining factor of your overall grade.
Depending on the results of my exam, this opinion could very rapidly change. If I achieve a high-grade then I take back everything negative I said about multiple choice tests. But, what do you think? Is it fair to base a student’s academic performance on the box they pick?