Further Meditations: Multiple Choice

I didn’t use to like multiple choice. They’re based on recognition, not recall, and thus (I thought) were not cognitively demanding. They don’t require higher-order thinking. And, so, they made infrequent appearances on my assessments. Now, every quiz I create is predominantly multiple choice and they feature largely on unit tests as well.

There are three main factors that lead to my change of heart.
Grade 6: I teach four sections of Grade 6, for a total of 99 students. If they were spread across multiple courses it would be different, but because it’s the same course, for every assessment, I (ideally) have 99 come in on the same day. The assessment burden is, well, burdensome, moreso when I aim to get grades back in a timely fashion. Multiple choice is quick to grade; for quizzes, if I’m focused and organized, I can grade the previous set while the next class is writing the quiz.
Cognitive science: Regular quizzing improves retention of information. If I’m going to quiz more frequently, I want to do so in a way that does not significantly add to my grading load.
Blog posts that challenged my views: This is not to say that the blog-o-sphere is uniformly in favour of multiple choice. Some think that multiple choice enhances retention more than other question types;  others cite evidence that suggests the use of multiple choice questions can create false memories.  Multiple choice does allow a teacher to assess a wider breadth of content, such as in subject areas like history, while essays typically assess depth of one or two topics; this is why I balance my Grade 11 Asian History quarter tests between a section of multiple choice and an essay. It is possible to write questions that require students to apply the information, to compare and contrast, and to generally use higher order thinking skills. If carefully designed, they can be used to pinpoint areas of confusion for students. Of course, some of the best-designed tests use multiple choice. Basically, multiple choice can be a useful classroom tool if the questions are well-designed.

I want to write well-designed questions. So I chose as my first micro-credential ​Designing and Evaluating Multiple-Choice Items.

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