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SDUUP | Newsletter March 2021

Multiple Choice Questions as an Exam Tool

Grith Lykke Sørensen has used multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) in exams. In the exams Grith has been responsible for, MCQ’s have been a part of the exam along with other exam tools like short answers. In general, Grith has found that MCQ is a good tool for exams when combined with other question types.

MCQ has been a good solution during COVID-19

The MCQ format has especially been put to the test in Module 3 during the past year, as COVID-19 resulted in limitations of the exam format. Thereby, Grith has gained a number of positive experiences with using MCQs in exams:

Especially because of COVID, we have had more MCQs than ever in the last couple of exams at Module 3, and in general our experience with using them has been good. In the last exam, 2/3 of the time was reserved for MCQs, while the last third was for short answer questions. We saw coherence between those who scored high in the MCQs and those, who scored high in the short answer questions.

Clear advantages to using MCQ as a part of exams

The use of MCQs in Module 3 is based on a number of advantages of the MCQ format. Grith points to objectiveness, resource savings and being able to cover more of the curriculum as the most important advantages:

I find using MCQs to be a clear advantage in mass exams as the ones, we conduct, as the MCQ format has an inherent objectiveness. Furthermore, we save a lot of time when grading the exams – but I also want to highlight the fact that MCQs cannot stand alone, as they cannot test the student’s active use of the subject’s language. Therefore, you should always combine MCQs with tasks containing written assignments. On the other hand, another great advantage of MCQs is that you can cover more of the curriculum, as you are able to ask more questions during the time span of the exam. Using MCQs obviously also saves some resources, as you can often reuse questions by slightly changing their phrasing – however, I do want to point out that it is important to control the questions you reuse with help from an objective censor or a student assistant.

Being aware of the challenges offered by MCQ’s strengthens the quality of the exam

Grith mentions some concerns about using MCQs, which she fears could give the format a bad reputation. However, she believes you can avoid those concerns by being aware of the format’s limitations and thus strengthen the quality of your exam:

I think that a widespread concern regarding MCQs is that they are too easy and that the students can easily guess how to answer them. However, we actually had a bit higher fail percentage than normally in the last exam – which could also be caused by home teaching and possible demotivation brought on by COVID. Another concern regarding MCQs is that they can be of a too poor quality – in Module 3, we have dodged that bullet as most of our teachers have taken the course provided by SDU, enabling us to analyse our MCQs and their structure and thus quality control the exam.

Advice for teachers who want to use MCQs in exams

Grith gives a number of recommendations to teacher, who are considering using MCQs in their exams. She recommends collaborating with SDUUP and highlight that as a teacher, you should be prepared to possibly face some resistance towards the MCQ format:

In Module 3, it was important for us to go through our exam in collaboration with SDUUP. This turned out to be a good way of finding structural errors in the questions – as this is something all teachers might accidentally make. I would thus certainly recommend getting outside help to look through your MCQs and receive comments on their structure. As I mentioned, I would also highly recommend that you combine MCQs with other types of questions. As a teacher and exam organiser, I also want to mention from personal experience that you should be prepared to face resistance towards the MCQ format. However, I absolutely believe that there are many advantages to the MCQ format, which make it a good fit for exams.

About the Teacher

Grith Lykke Sørensen is a Professor with Special Responsibilities at the Department of Cancer and Inflammation Research at SDU, has used multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) in exams at Module 3 on the BaSc in Medicine.

Editing was completed: 24.03.2021