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Examinations: Multiple Choice Versus Open-Ended Questions

By Lady Lit

This article examines the benefits and drawbacks of multiple choice test formats as compared with open-ended questions.

Test Question Types: Multiple Choice

Everyone has had the pleasure, or lack thereof, of completing a multiple choice assessment. Test Time in the Classroom  Some people like multiple choice tests because one of the answer choices has to be the correct answer. The difficulty of any multiple choice test depends on the distractors, which are the wrong answer choices. The problem that many students have is simply using the rationale to get to the correct answer.

A student’s success on a multiple-choice test depends on his or her reading ability as well as their study skills: How much effort did the individual put into preparing for the assessment? Preparation is key; if one studies enough, the material can be mastered, regardless of the complexity of it. However, a student may still have difficulty scoring well on an assessment, if he or she is not a good test-taker.

Open-Ended Questions

Multiple-choice tests do not allow much, if any, room for error. The answer choice is either right, or it is wrong; there is no gray area. If individuals read information into the question, he or she is going to run into problems rather quickly.

Open-ended questions generally require the student to provide a response. Now, if one is a convincing and a well-written individual, he or she is likely to have an easier time getting the teacher to see his or her point. Some students have the ability to write “fluff” and to make their fluff sound very logical and very sensible.

The shortcoming of open-ended questions is that a student may not have any idea what the test question is going to consist of. Usually a test is composed of just a few open-ended questions as compared to the 50 to 100 question multiple-choice assessment.

A Matter of Preference?

It all comes down to what testing format the student is accustomed to taking. Most teachers are going to give an assessment that is easier to grade. Multiple-choice assessments are easier to grade as teachers can run scantrons through a machine in seconds. On the other hand, if teachers give students an open-ended assessment, teachers will have to spend their time grading the questions.