Why I Hate Multiple Choice Tests

I hate multiple choice exams. My problem with the way that courses and testing is set up is this; I am taking a course with the notion that I need to learn enough content to pass the multiple choice test rather than truly learning the material in a way to use it appropriately. Not all, but some training providers train so that you will be able to pass the exam rather than learn the content. For me this is a challenge as I am looking to learn the content and I have a hard time writing multiple choice exams.

I have always had problems with multiple choice tests. No matter how well I thought I knew the content I would always get tripped up. In many cases at the end of the exam if you asked me how well I did I would always have the same response. “I did great…. I think….”

My issue with these tests has always been there. Teachers in high school had seen that this was an issue and had given me tips and tricks on how to pass the exam (even though the efforts should have been on content) such as:

  • Read the questions carefully to look for key words
  • Go with your first instinctual answer
  • Watch out for double negatives like “which applications would not be unwanted in scope”
  • The order of correct answers. If you choose answer a five times in a row the next one can’t be ‘a’ again, can it?

Even before the tests you will often be told, “You need 65% to pass, or 26 correct answers” which can have an impact on how you address your answers. Many people are already set up to game the exam so that they can hit that 65%. You might be thinking “wouldn’t you just want to do the best you can?” The trick is that for many who are simply looking to gain a certificate or designation they are only ever looking to pass the test.

What these tests are good at

In my opinion multiple choice exams take out the subjective nature of the answers which make it not only easy to score, but also easier to grade all students on a level playing field. It can also leverage automation to grade tests in an instant. So there is a silver lining in this

Where the tests fail

In my opinion, multiple choice exams don’t improve the student’s ability to think about the content or how it might apply in a real world situation. The test taker is looking to remember details that will help them pass the test by matching definitions for example.

For me this is why I have always looked for training providers that the instructors leverage a sample of examples and stories that take the information we are learning and applying to real life situations in addition to preparing me for the test.

In my ITIL4 foundation course I try to get people to think about the content in ways that they are actually learning something and able to explain it in their own terms rather than selecting the right choice from a list of four possible answers.


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