Friday, January 25, 2008

In Defense of Multiple Choice.

My friend and occasional arch-nemesis Toby and I have a running feud over which testing method is superior: Essays or Multiple Choice. Toby, because he enjoys "words" goes with essays, while I go with multiple choice. If I had to be honest, I would say that I think that a mix of the two is probably the best way to go, a sentiment that I am sure Toby will agree with. Particularly so now that I have put him on the spot.

Anyway, while looking for stuff to write about, I found this page:

http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/hist.htm

Contained therein are some snippets of essays that various students have written. It's pretty funny, except when you stop to think that some of these things were written by college students. Let me give you my top 5 sentences from the list:

1. Voltare invented electricity and also wrote a book called "Candy".
2. The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West.
3. One of the causes of the Revolutionary Wars was the English put tacks in their tea.
4. When Elizabeth exposed herself be- fore her troops, they all shouted "hurrah." Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.
5. the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks

Now, call me silly, but it seems to me that a multiple choice test would have removed the option of the plague causing random boob growth and Elizabeth motivating her troops be-fore battle by flashing them. I am all for the critical thinking involved in essays, and for someone who is supposedly such a staunch multiplist (I just made that up. It's awesome), I make my students write a lot. What I don't do, all the time, is give them a chance to make such stunning claims as "When they fought the Parisians, the Greeks were outnumbered because the Persians had more men.".

Take that, Toby.

PS: In the interest of our testing feud being more interesting, I have assigned you the super-villain name of "The Mandarin". Henceforth, I will be known as "Crom". At all other non-feuding related events, our real names will suffice, unless you really want to call me Crom, which is OK.

4 comments:

Randy said...

Great stuff. However, I think these wonderful pieces of written work provide us as teachers with great tools. They allow us to pinpoint the flaws in our students so that we my correct them. A multiple-choice test simply shows whether the student knows the stuff or not. Whereas, the essays show where exactly the flaws in learning/teaching exist. Plus, they provide for some heavy laughter/drinking on the part of us, the teachers.

Timbo said...

Well, now you have become one of The Mandarin's henchmen. I love the power of blogging.

Toby said...

What is the definition of Mandarin?

A. The standard literary and official form of Chinese based on the Beijing dialect, spoken by over 730 million.

B. A small flattish citrus fruit with a loose skin, esp. a variety with yellow-orange skin.

C. A bad ass who sees multiple choice tests for what they are: worthless wastes or paper that teach students nothing.

D. All of the above.

Your examples above merely serve to prove the vast superiority of essay tests. Clearly, these students (especially those in college) had teachers who gave them multiple-choice tests throughout high school. If these questions had been in MC form, the student might have guessed correctly and would have learned nothing. With an essay, I can tell which students desperately need help... very desperately.

Also, Crom would sound cool shouted by James T. Kirk. "CRRRRRROOOOOMMMMMM!" And I welcome Randy to my ranks.

It's on.

Crom said...

Dear The Mandarin,

Of course multiple choice teach nothing. They are an assessment tool of no small merit.

I would think an evil genius would be able to see that. Perhaps you and your henchman need to get together to discuss strategy.

Crom!