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Multiple choice vs Fill-in-the-blank

Tests come in all shapes and sizes, but standardized tests typically emphasize questions with multiple choice answers.

Classically, multiple choice tests have been thought of as a way to evaluate previously learned knowledge—hence their place at the center of standardized testing. They halve also been considered ‘passive’ because the student needs only to recognize the correct answer, rather than engage in complex memory retrieval thinking.

However, a recent study from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that well-constructed multiple choice questions are no more passive than short answer or fill-in-the-blank question types.

But how and why? Little and her colleagues believe that it has everything to do with the way the questions and answers are constructed. […] the questions they used in the experiment had “competitive alternative answers.” That is, the wrong answers were plausible enough that the students had to think about why the correct answer was correct — and why the wrong answers were wrong.

Test takers must engage active memory and critical reasoning skills in order to select the right answer from the decoys. Moreover, these findings are in keeping with the skill sets that standardized tests ultimately evaluate. Standardized tests are indeed “well constructed” according to the study’s criteria. While you a student can, with time, learn to identify trap answers, there are very few questions that feature blatantly wrong answer choices.

In this regard, the multiple choice sections of all standardized tests require students to adopt a different critical mindset than they would bring to short answer questions. This can be difficult because most teachers prefer testing formats where the student must supply the answer from memory. However, in short answer questions, there are no distractions. In thoughtful multiple choice questions, a test taker must isolate one correct answer from three or four plausible but incorrect answer choices.

Therefore, teaching students how to read both the test and the answer choices is a crucial part of the studying process.

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