A, B, C or D: A Choice I don’t Want to Make

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Most people do not like taking tests. They’re stressful, a pain to thoroughly study for and can contain deadly pitfalls, like trick questions or “none of the above” answer choices; but the worst kind of test is actually the one most people seem to prefer. Multiple choice tests have the potential to hands down be the worst kind of test someone can be given, yet most students seem to prefer them over free-write tests.

Multiple choice tests are typically seen as being ‘easier,’ since you can just pick the answer choice that looks the better than the others and do well; however, if you’re taking a MC (multiple choice) test that has real effort put into it, the agonizing experience outdoes the pain of most free-response tests.

Multiple choice tests contain tricky psychological mind games, which spawn from a combination of the MC test structure, the teacher’s choices and the student’s thought process.

The first and most common one of these “mind games” is the tendency for students to feel insecure about certain answer choices, simply because they’ve already selected the same letter a few times in a row. For example, if the answers to questions one through three were ‘B’, and the student is stuck between answers ‘A’ and ‘B’ for question four, they’re much more likely to choose ‘A’, because it seems odd that four questions in a row would have the same letter choice. This can lead to students selecting incorrect answers for no other  reason than ‘it felt wrong.’

This ideology is especially destructive when paired with how teachers make MC tests. I made one myself for a homework assignment once, and discovered that I had a tendency to gravitate back to a certain letter to be the right answer, and found it hard to deviate — many teachers have this issue as well. A result of this phenomenon is the occasional string of same-letter answer choices, which results in students doubting and second-guessing their answers.

In many MC tests I’ve taken, there is usually one default ‘right’ answer choice; a letter that pops up frequently during the test as the right answer. This can be useful or harmful, depending on how this letter appears during the test. For this example, let’s say that the teacher has a tendency to choose B as the right answer choice.

If a string of Bs are presented as the right answer choice for several questions in a row, then a student might choose another answer out of fear that they’re wrong; but if the Bs occur more frequently than the other letter choices — but not necessarily in a row — the student can use this to their advantage. If a student is on the fence about an answer choice, and ‘B’ is a viable option, selecting it would give him/her a better chance of getting the answer right. Finding that equivalent of ‘B’ in other MC tests can lead to a failsafe answer choice: the one you select if it’s an option, but you’re not entirely sure is correct.

Another issue with MC tests is how some of them are created solely to be a major headache. Some teachers create questions with answers that are all slightly correct, but one is the right choice due to some small detail that makes it “the most correct.” Depending on the subject, the line between objective correctness and subjective correctness can be blurred, leading to post-test conflict between teacher and student. In a free response test, you can sometimes get partial points for a partially correct answer, but in a MC test, an answer choice that’s not perfect lands you with zero credit.

There are advantages and disadvantages to multiple choice tests, most of them psychological; in the end, taking the test itself becomes a large part of the actual testing process, rather than a pure gauge of knowledge. This applies to all tests, but is especially obvious and annoying in multiple choice tests.