Mary McGee Wood - Assessment and Feedback - Training and Consultancy

Answers: selected or constructed?

To my mind, the first cut to make in distinguishing types of exam questions is: are you asking students to select among options you have offered to them (multiple choice in any of its superficial variants), or to construct an answer of their own (text, calculation, diagram)? One also sees the terms "select / supply", or "pick / provide".

The use of the term "objective" for selected-answer questions is unfortunate and inappropriate. MCQs are widely used to elicit subjective judgements, as in customer or indeed student satisfaction questionnaires; questions asking for objective answers, or suitable for objective marking, are widely set as free text.

MCQs ("pick and tick") have their place, especially where very large student numbers and very simple material are involved. However they are difficult to set well, even then; and there is always the chance that students will get some questions right by luck, or will recognise a correct answer which they could not have produced from memory.

"Slot" or "fill-in-the-blank" questions can often be effective in large group assessments, as they can be quickly and accurately marked (where there is only one acceptable answer), but still offer the challenge of constructing an answer. In experiments with on-line English language proficiency testing which I have been involved in, supplementing MCQs with slot questions stretched the diagnostic baseline from 40% to under 20%, with almost no additional cost in marking time.