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Whether They’re (a) Multiple Choice or (b) Essays Test Formats Can Impact Your Score

By: Joseph D'Andrea

Each student has their own preferred method of both test-taking and studying. Preparation for exams can come in the form of informational recap videos, good-old-fashioned flashcards, or otherwise, and different courses’ exam questions can consist of multiple choice, short answer, essay responses, and so on. There's no denying that a one-size-fits-all is rare among students, in either regard. However, even though some methods of evaluation may suit certain students’ preferences more than others, we should not dismiss how there are some test formats that can benefit students’ skill sets as a whole.

As an elementary, middle, or even high school level student, many can relate to the experience of choosing the correct answer on a test by way of process of elimination. Knocking out choices that were surely not correct, and circling the only remaining one, whether you fully understood what the chosen answer meant, is fairly common. For this reason, I think that educators should encourage students to truly grasp the material they learn and get tested on in a more effective way.

Short answer and essay questions require students to understand the material they are being tested on in a more intensive and cognizant way. They are important to college students more than any other age group, as these young adults will be using the information they’re being tested on in their future careers, in practical and complex ways. EdSurge, an outlet that focuses on the ever-changing aspects of education through research of advancing technology, demographic shifts and more, published an article in 2018 titled “Should Professors (a) Use Multiple Choice Tests or (b) Avoid Them At All Costs?” It includes this information: “Multiple-choice questions don’t belong in college. They’re often ineffective as a teaching tool, they’re easy for students to cheat, and they can exacerbate test anxiety… [Giving] ‘more authentic’ assignments, like project-based work and other things that students would be more likely to see in a professional environment.”

By definition, test-taking shows how well a student knows the information that was taught. But what helps them more in the long-term—written assessments or multiple choice questions?

As mentioned earlier, students nevertheless have their own preferences when it comes to being tested. In a poll put out to Adelphi students that asked whether they would rather take four multiple choice tests or write two essays in a semester’s worth of a class, 56 percent chose the former, while the remaining 44 percent preferred the latter.

This is not to say that every test put on a student's desk should make them feel as though they’re about to write a novel, nor is it to say that multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions should be completely eliminated. Those types of questions can function in their own right—such as the involvement of problem-solving—but the fact remains that students will retain the information they are made to write out in a structured, coherent manner, to a greater degree, which also prepares them to write longer-from writing assignments in the process.

When simply asked which test format students preferred, 38 percent of AU respondents chose multiple choice, with 23 percent giving their vote to written assessments. Interestingly enough, another 38 percent chose multiple choice as their preferred type of exam, but with the acknowledgment of written assessments’ benefits.

“I do prefer multiple choice,” said freshman economics major Troy Cofie, “but short answers can help with bumping up the grade instead of the ‘absolutism’ of multiple choice grading.”

Going along with the majority opinion, sophomore communications major Jamie Gesell said, “I find multiple tests easier because you have at least a 25 percent chance of getting it right. With essays you have to come up with the answer all on your own. Multiple choice tests give you a list of options to choose from and a good chance of getting it right.”

Although this debate is directed more towards those in college, I still believe that written-out-answer-based tests should be used in young adolescents’ classes too, gradually preparing them for what is to come after they graduate high school, both in college and professional settings.

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