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Bruno: Teachers' Confused Critique Of Multiple Choice

2230010178_40c2741290Among critics of high-stakes standardized testing it has become popular to imply that the multiple-choice testing format is inherently inadequate and inferior.

This has always been a little puzzling because in practice teachers frequently create and administer multiple-choice tests on their own so it's not as if there's a broad professional consensus in education that such assessments are meaningless or shouldn't be given to students.

Previous studies, plus new research in Psychological Science, defend the use of multiple choice tests in class and for accountability purposes.

Previous studies have found that because recognizing a correct answer (e.g., from a list of possible answers) is not as beneficial for later memory as retrieving it from memory, multiple-choice tests might be less useful for students than tests in other formats. Still, they find that the act of taking even a multiple-choice can help students remember material later.

A new study in Psychological Science goes a step further and finds that multiple choice tests can actually have an advantage over other formats. This is because well-designed multiple-choice tests can trigger not only memory retrieval about - rather than mere recognition of - the right answer, they can also require students to retrieve memories about why the incorrect answers are wrong. This sort of memory retrieval is precisely what is thought to help students remember the information later, after completion of the test.

Of course, not all multiple-choice tests are well-designed. Neither, however, are tests of other kinds.

So next time you hear someone deride "filling in bubbles" as a useless assessment exercise, remember that the format of the test may not matter as much as we are inclined to think and that the many teachers who use multiple-choice tests may have good reason to do so.

- PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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