Do you prefer multiple choice or free response exams?

Do you prefer multiple choice or free response exams?

Prefer in what way, and for what kind of subject? Depending on context I could answer either way.

Plus I think the poll should at least have an ambivalent option :slight_smile:

Depends upon the questions:

If say “What is the capital of Delaware?” their is only one answer.

If say its a question where opinion can play a part, then free response.

NOW, I’ve seen math tests where yes, their is just one answer. BUT, they write it so if there are 4 answers one can get all 4 depending upon how you do the problem. VERY hard.

Also I had a class where the instructor gave you 4 choices. 1 answer was right. 1 was wrong. The other 2 were sort of right but maybe only partly right. Those were also very hard and frankly up to interpretation.

When I am the teacher, definitely long essay, which is the ultimate free response option.

When I am the student, depends on the depth to which I know the subject. I’ve often scored passing grades and even good grades in areas where I was so underprepared that it was my skill at taking multiple choice exams, and not my knowledge of the subject matter, that was responsible for how well I did at it.

But if I know the subject in a really solid way, an essay question lets me shine. A free response of the “fill in the blank” variety may not garner me any credit if the teacher was fishing for a specific phrase even if what I put wasn’t incorrect. With an essay question, on the other hand, I can elaborate and give examples, I can qualify my answer and explain how the answer varies depending on other parameters not mentioned by the teacher; essay questions are usually “worth” a range of points and I’ll typically get, let’s say, 10 out of 10 on three of them and 8 or 9 out of 10 on a fourth and a lot of response comments in the margins that make me feel like I’ve had a conversation with the teacher and not just had m answer-circuits tested.

Oh, and I didn’t vote in your poll. It wasn’t free response :slight_smile: I came down here and wrote out an essay-question answer.

As a math professor, I would have preferred multiple choice tests, but I could never figure out how to do one that could properly test the students. Free response questions are very hard to mark because when the student gets the wrong answer, you have to decide if they just made a silly error and really understood or if they really didn’t understand the material and that meant following the work closely. When I assigned history-based term papers (in a history of math course), I always enjoyed reading them–they were so easy to follow.

I tend to score very high on multiple choice tests, even when I do not really know the material.

Essay…easy to taylor an essay to what you know rather than mc where you have to know the material much better.

It depends a little on the question but I very much prefer essay or “fill in the blank” type tests. I prefer being testing on knowledge rather than my ability to guess.

This is by no means a comprehensive type of response that would illuminate the difference between these two testing methodologies because the subject delves into numerous complexities involved with the difference between simplistic rote answers to examination inquiries and a more free form and open ended analysis of the question and the overall subject area. Within those parameters there numerous intermediate factors that have a direct relationship to understanding the depth and level of detail required to perform the proper evaluation of comprehension of the student’s participation and absorption of relevant facts and abilities to demonstrate their grasp of the working material and their facility in it’s application. By electing to substantiate the details and practical knowledge of the subject and it’s relative place within the framework of the broader subject and their ongoing development of insight and apperception the student may take advantage of and use the structure of the free response to improve their chance of an enhanced scoring by the abecedary due to the appearance and general resemblance to adequate and involved proficiency in their answers.

Multiple choice, definitely.

There are some very good techniques for taking MC tests, and they work. When I was a college tutor I used to be able to raise a student’s test scores around 10 points without reviewing the actual subject knowledge. I was surprised to learn not many people know this, and most folks approach MC tests exactly the wrong way. Here are the basics:

  • Go through the test multiple times
  • On the first pass answer only the questions you know instantly, with no thought required
  • Second pass, answer questions that you’re confident you know, but require some thought or calculation
  • Third pass, begin on the questions that require some hard thought
  • Etc, etc. By the time a typical student makes their fourth or fifth pass through, there are usually not too many questions left they really don’t know

I found most people would rather take all the questions in order. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, you may end up spending a lot of energy early on with a hard question. And if so, it tends to tank your confidence. Second, and most importantly, the questions and answers you find on the easy questions give you information. Sometimes an answer will logically eliminate other possibilities (especially with “all of the above” / none of the above" answer choices).

Well designed MC tests (as defined by what I learned in grad school) have at least 4 answer choices, although 5 is better for eliminating guessing. But guess what? In the real world they aren’t usually that well designed, which means they are vulnerable to smart test-taking techniques. They have worked for me in many areas. Hell, the FAA violates everything I learned about how to design a good MC test. I’ve always scored 85 or above on them, sometimes with minimal prep.

Yeah. I think multiple-choice tests are much easier to take, and they don’t leave as much room for confusion over “I didn’t know what kind of answer you were looking for” or “what form the answer was supposed to be in.” But in many situations, free-response exams do a better job of testing exactly how much test-takers actually know and understand.
Note that this poll is flawed. Those who prefer multiple choice will select one of the poll answers, while those who prefer free response will post a written-out reply. :slight_smile:

That is the way I use to take MC test. Well any test.
I would answer the questions that knew right off, no doubt. I kept track of how many I answered so I would know what was my test score. Then I would go threw a second time answering what I could with confidence. Then through again and again until all that was left were the ones that I was not sure. If while taking the test I knew I was going to get a good grade then the pressure was off and the hard questions became easier.

There can be bad questions on a MC test. In the 70’s there was one question on the US Coast Guard’s test for third engineers that the answer they were looking for was illegal. The answer to a question about cleaning up machine oil and what to use to clean it up. Their answer was cotton waste. It is against Coast Guard regulations to have cotton waste in a marine engine room.

Which is a bad thing if the whole point of the test is to measure actual subject knowledge as opposed to test-taking skills.

That’s the cost of doing business when it comes to testing. No test is a perfect instrument for measuring content knowledge. Instructors and universities that are dedicated to doing it well not only design good tests, but they run statistics* on the results and continually change and improve. That makes them somewhat less susceptible to test-taking techniques. But simply by BEING a multiple choice test, they will always be vulnerable to smart test takers. I have no ethical problem equipping people to do that.

But most places don’t go to such effort.

Why? Because in much of the world testing serves largely as a barrier to entry. Validity and reliability are a distant second if considered at all. Again, my thoughts run to the FAA on this. Not only are their exams terribly designed, they don’t really make much attempt to address content knowledge used in real flying. If they wanted to improve their testing they would first need to address that and not worry so much about tutors showing students techniques to get another 8-10%.

  • An example of this (and I forget the technical term for it) is finding out which students in the ranking answered certain questions correctly or incorrectly. If most of the students who scored 90% or above missed question 5, then it’s probably not a good question. The people who demonstrated good content knowledge all missing it means it’s very likely not valid for some reason. Conversely, if the folks who scored in the lowest percentile all got question 18 right, it might be too easy or obvious.

But this sort of thing is a nuance that many professors / institutions would not do.

I prefer free response exams in that I think they’re much better at testing actual knowledge and the ability to put two or more pieces of knowledge together into a sentence or event a paragraph.

I also feel like free response eliminates some logic or comprehension issues with multiple choice. You know, cases where you have to pick the false ones and you accidentally check off the first true one you see. Or where the answer to “What is red?” is meant to be “Roses” but you don’t choose that answer because you know some roses are not red.

That’s the sort of thing that bites me on multiple choice tests- poorly worded, vague or just plain inaccurate questions. I used to get really steamed while taking the SAT or PSAT type tests, because they had these questions like “Which word most nearly means the same as <some word>”

I’d know the definition almost verbatim, and all the given options for “most nearly like” were atrociously not very close, so I’d do my best. Vague or judgement based questions without discrete answers are poor choices for multiple choice tests.

In general, I do well on multiple choice tests, in that I’ve been taught the test-taking strategies and techniques. But I prefer the free response tests in general, as I think they do a better job of sifting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I mean, a history multiple choice test tends to reduce it down to dates, participants and names, and downplays an understanding of the actual implications. I mean, you could ask which came first- the Sugar Act, the Intolerable Acts, the Stamp Act or the Tea Act, or you could ask whether the Sugar Act was in 1764, 1765, 1770 or 1774. But none of those really shows that you have a grasp of WHY the Sugar Act or the Molasses Act were so onerous, and most MC questions that would try to ask that tend to lead the answer fairly obviously.

Far better to have the student write a paragraph explaining what the effects of the Act are, I think. And far harder for someone to fudge with test-taking strategies as well.

Multiple choice answers seldom seem very black and white to me, so I’ll tend to question my answers when I shouldn’t do so. I’ll happily natter on answering a free response question and never doubt my answer at all.

If I know the subject, I prefer free response questions. If I know nothing, then multiple choice makes it easier to guess. But if I know the subject than multiple choice makes me doubt myself, because they’re always designed so that the wrong choices still look like they could be true.


Free response tests mean that the answer could be anything. Multiple choice tests mean that the answer is one of a small set of possible answers. You have a much better chance of getting the right answer when the options are less than, you know, infinite.