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In Defense of the Multiple Choice Test

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Update November 11, 2021: While studying, I came across this nice resource from UC Davis about "selected response tests" (ie: multiple choice, true/false, etc.). I read through it and it helped to fine-tune some of my thoughts about using multiple choice in the classroom. I haven't had a chance to update my thoughts below based on the article, but here it is if you would like to check it out:

There's education theory, and then there's what education looks like in real life. In theory, open-ended tests where students have to explain their thinking are ideal. In theory, for every assessment, students would not only demonstrate higher level thinking, but they would also have different options in which to demonstrate their thinking. This is all well and good, and I don't disagree in theory, but in reality, grading is overwhelming and sometimes I need a break.

Over the course of my education training, multiple choice tests got so poo-pooed on that I never used them until I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to stop teaching. I figured that if I couldn't do everything "right,”  then I should not teach. Then I realized that I liked teaching, and I liked working with kids, and, well, screw it; I was just going to stick around and be a good teacher instead of WORLD’S BEST TEACHER. I was NOT going to spend my free time grading a prodigious pile of open-ended assessments anymore. I did not get rid of my all open-ended stuff, I just cut it down. I turned whatever test or quiz I could into a multiple choice test.

I started with my 10 Intensified English class. To keep kids honest and on top of the reading, I spring reading quizzes on them now and again. These quizzes used to be short answer, but not anymore! Now I give students between ten and fifteen multiple choice questions about the reading and zip the Scantrons through at the end of the day. Sometimes I just give a complete reading test at the end of the book.

I have not yet made questions banks for all of the books I teach my sophomores, but over the last two years I have made tests for 12 Angry Men, Persepolis, Things Fall Apart, and Purple Hibiscus. I am currently working on Julius Caesar.

It is time consuming to make the tests in the first place, but I think it pays off in grading time over the years.If you want to save yourself time making the tests, there are many for sale in my TpT store. I try and make tests for books that I think teachers (and students) will use in the classroom, so I currently have tests for some of the classics, plus a ton of quizzes for books by Jason Reynolds, Sharon Draper, Tiffany Jackson, and Angie Thomas. If you would like to be brave, this is my current bundle of ALL the YA tests that I have made:

The quizzes are detail oriented. I used to judge teachers who gave detailed reading quizzes until I watched kids in my study hall frantically pour over every detail in the books they were reading in order to study for another teacher’s difficult reading quiz. Seeing that changed my mind, so I give detailed reading quizzes now, too. The kids hate it (too bad!); I love it!

To balance out the multiple choice quizzes and tests, students also complete a paper or project.

For my AP Language and Composition class, I use released AP exams as part of my quarterly assessments. In Lang & Comp, we mostly study essays and speeches, but this year I taught Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and I am in the middle of teaching Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Students discussed and wrote about both, so I did not feel bad giving them multiple choice tests to round it all out.

One other benefit of a multiple choice test in an English class is that it allows for a bit of objectivity in a class filled with subjective grading. I like to have a balance of both in my grade book.

If we want to keep teachers from burning out, we need to strike a balance between time consuming and non-time consuming grading. just need a multiple choice test!

What are some strategies that you use to control your grading load?

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