Essay vs multiple choice tests

Can multiple-choice exams prove what a student really knows?

When students are under time pressure, they may make mistakes that have nothing to do with the extent of their learning. Thus, unless your goal is to assess how students perform under time pressure, it is important to design exams that can be reasonably completed in the time allotted. One way to determine how long an exam will take students to complete is to take it yourself and allow students triple the time it took you — or reduce the length or difficulty of the exam.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Test Questions

The point value you ascribe to different questions should be in line with their difficulty, as well as the length of time they are likely to take and the importance of the skills they assess. It is not always easy when you are an expert in the field to determine how difficult a question will be for students, so ask yourself: How many subskills are involved? Have students answered questions like this before, or will this be new to them? Are there common traps or misconceptions that students may fall into when answering this question?

Needless to say, difficult and complex question types should be assigned higher point values than easier, simpler question types. Similarly, questions that assess pivotal knowledge and skills should be given higher point values than questions that assess less critical knowledge. Will you give partial credit if a student gets some elements of an answer right? If so, you might want to break the desired answer into components and decide how many points you would give a student for correctly answering each.


Thinking this through in advance can make it considerably easier to assign partial credit when you do the actual grading. For example, if a short answer question involves four discrete components, assigning a point value that is divisible by four makes grading easier. Creating objective test questions — such as multiple-choice questions — can be difficult, but here are some general rules to remember that complement the strategies in the previous section.

Creating Exams How can you design fair, yet challenging, exams that accurately gauge student learning? Choose appropriate item types for your objectives. Highlight how the exam aligns with course objectives. Write instructions that are clear, explicit, and unambiguous. Write instructions that preview the exam. For more information about the two methods of scoring essays, please see the Scoring Essays and Problems document below. As Nitko and others emphasize, the following three principles are important to follow when constructing classroom assessments:.

When you construct an assessment, you should ask yourself whether each item measures something that you really think is important for students to know. Even if a test is difficult, students will consider it fair if it covers the learning objectives and content you have stressed.

Improving Your Test Questions

If students have mastered the learning objectives, they should be able to perform well on your tests. Likewise, if students are having difficulty with the learning objectives, these deficiencies should be reflected in their test scores. If items are ambiguously or poorly worded, if directions are not clear, if examples use material that is not familiar to all students, then some students who have attained your learning objectives may still answer items incorrectly.

If you are aware of and make an effort to follow the three principles, you will develop tests that have the desired technical properties referred to as reliability and validity. Baker, Former Director of the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching As you can see, scoring of objective tests is quite simple. To use the analytic method, you develop a list of the major elements you believe students should include in the ideal answer.


16, NO. 6. PP. (). JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING. RESEARCH REPORTS. ESSAY VERSUS MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS. Below is a guideline prepared by on the difference between an essay exam and a multiple-choice test. Below is a comparison of Essays vs.

The holistic approach to scoring essay items involves your reading an entire response and assigning it to a category identified by a score or grade. Regardless of whether you decide to use an analytic or holistic method of scoring, there are several guidelines to consider with respect to the scoring of essay tests: Develop scoring criteria or model answers. Suggestion: You can use some choices more than once in the same matching exercise. It reduces the effects of guessing. Short answer questions are typically composed of a brief prompt that demands a written answer that varies in length from one or two words to a few sentences.

They are most often used to test basic knowledge of key facts and terms.

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

The data across twenty separate studies indicate that the percentage of "right to wrong" changes is Hunting for reasons to support one's beliefs. Preferably, you should articulate these expectations to students before they take the exam as well as in the exam instructions. Essay exams are easier to construct than are objective exams. You can use the information gathered from either method to identify strengths and weaknesses in your item writing.

An example this kind of short answer question follows:. Short answer questions can also be used to test higher thinking skills, including analysis or evaluation. For example:. Please justify your decision with two to three sentences explaining the factors that have influenced your decision.


Short answer questions have many advantages. Many instructors report that they are relatively easy to construct and can be constructed faster than multiple choice questions. Short answer questions provide students with more flexibility to explain their understanding and demonstrate creativity than they would have with multiple choice questions; this also means that scoring is relatively laborious and can be quite subjective. Short answer questions provide more structure than essay questions and thus are often easy and faster to mark and often test a broader range of the course content than full essay questions.

Suggestion : When using short answer questions to test student knowledge of definitions consider having a mix of questions, some that supply the term and require the students to provide the definition, and other questions that supply the definition and require that students provide the term. The latter sort of questions can be structured as fill-in-the-blank questions. Essay questions provide a complex prompt that requires written responses, which can vary in length from a couple of paragraphs to many pages.

Like short answer questions, they provide students with an opportunity to explain their understanding and demonstrate creativity, but make it hard for students to arrive at an acceptable answer by bluffing.

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They can be constructed reasonably quickly and easily but marking these questions can be time-consuming and grader agreement can be difficult. Essay questions differ from short answer questions in that the essay questions are less structured. This openness allows students to demonstrate that they can integrate the course material in creative ways. As a result, essays are a favoured approach to test higher levels of cognition including analysis, synthesis and evaluation. However, the requirement that the students provide most of the structure increases the amount of work required to respond effectively.

Students often take longer to compose a five paragraph essay than they would take to compose five one paragraph answers to short answer questions.

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This increased workload limits the number of essay questions that can be posed on a single exam and thus can restrict the overall scope of an exam to a few topics or areas. Suggestions : Distribute possible essay questions before the exam and make your marking criteria slightly stricter.

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

This gives all students an equal chance to prepare and should improve the quality of the answers — and the quality of learning — without making the exam any easier. Some of the principle advantages to oral exams are that they provide nearly immediate feedback and so allow the student to learn as they are tested. There are two main drawbacks to oral exams: the amount of time required and the problem of record-keeping.

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  3. Creating objective test questions.
  4. Difference Between An Essay vs Multiple Choice Tests;
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  6. Exam Questions: Types, Characteristics, and Suggestions;

Oral exams typically take at least ten to fifteen minutes per student, even for a midterm exam. As a result, they are rarely used for large classes. In many departments, oral exams are rare.