Pick a letter and a grade?


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?

8 thoughts on “Pick a letter and a grade?

  1. Hi Yasmine.

    I completely agree with you. Multiple choice tests are always great and everything, but they seem to test your skills of test taking, rather than content knowledge. I just took this math exam with 50 multiple choice questions. Even when studying for this exam, I passed the practice exams easily with guessing half the time. Even though I’m sure that a portion of the grade has to do with content knowledge, it just feels like a part of it has to do with eliminating wrong answers and then guessing on what is left. At any rate, that is just my opinion. 🙂

      • Yes exactly. Sometimes the answers are far off from the correct answer, and usually one is near the correct answer as well. Numerical questions are like that. Analytic questions could be up in the air, with several correct-sounding choices.

  2. Hi Yasmine, I have to agree with everybody here. I haven’t taken any tests in a while, but I always found multiple choice tests didn’t say much about your knowledge of the subject at all. I went to high school in Germany and we never had a single multiple choice test, it just wasn’t something that would ever have been seriously considered. So I was quite surprised when I started college in the U.S. and almost all my tests were multiple choice. Especially in subjects like Sociology or English that just seems so wrong. I mean really? I’m not filling out a coupon or gift certificate here, I’m trying to show what I’ve learned and how to express what I’ve learned. And like carbz413 says above, most people just end up learning how to be good multiple choice takers, they learn all the tricks and know how to get A’s, but often couldn’t tell you anything about a subject.

  3. Thanks for stopping by the blog and liking one of my posts 🙂 Mucho appreciated!

    I am a teacher by training but not by profession. It may not be a good reflection of my study habits, but I remember that every type of test (multiple choice, true or false tests, answer completion tests, matching type tests, identification tests and essay tests) is meant to measure a certain type of learning.

    I think multiple choice type tests are popular these days for ease of checking on the part of the teacher. I personally loved making essay question tests and multiple answer multiple choice tests (where there are one or more answers that are correct for each question) because they are better indicators of a student’s understanding of a concept.

    Whatever your teacher’s reasons for creating the tests, I think you should still get an A+ for the effort you put in revising! 🙂

  4. Love your way of writing. I search for a pattern too.:P We have MCQ’s for all subjects along with the whole paper so I usually keep MCQ’s for last for some amusement. 🙂 🙂

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