Why does Get My Grades use more than just Multiple Choice Questions?

For Students, for teachers

Multiple choice testing was developed around 100 years ago. It was developed by E.L. Thorndike (more known for his work watching cats escape puzzle boxes) and his then assistant B.D. Wood. They were invented as a way of reducing teacher workload – instead of having to grade lots of long answers, the results of an exam could simply be added up by a someone who knew nothing about the field – and in this way they work! With the invention of computers, multiple choice questions reduce the workload even more as now the computer can do all the adding up!

Get My Grades includes more than just multiple choice questions – so why did we decide to give ourselves more work, if only offering multiple choice questions would have been easier to implement overall?

GCSEs are not just multiple choice questions. We recently reviewed all the maths GCSE papers for the main three exam boards (AQA, Edexcel and OCR) for 2017 and looked at what type of questions were present.

As is clear from the graph, although Multiple Choice Questions exist – they only account for a small percentage (3.4%) of the marks. This graph hides the fact that there was considerable variation by exam board with AQA (9.38%) having far high percentage than OCR (1.53%) and Edexcel having no multiple choice questions at all.

A recent review (Adesope, Trevisan, & Sundararajan; 2017) of the research on testing suggests that matching the type of test to the final exam helps you to remember. In short, you are best practising the type of questions on will get on your GCSE paper – which does not really include many (if any) multiple choice questions.

So why aren’t your GCSEs all multiple choice? Surely this would be easier for all concerned? This decision has been made partly as multiple choice questions are viewed as being easier than other types of question (e.g. in this article in the Telegraph). This isn’t necessarily true, however, as you can make multiple choice as hard as you like.

Imagine you were asked to identify a sheep you saw escaping.

Picking out the sheep in the above image is easy.

But trying to pick the right sheep here is hard – even if you were given a photo of the sheep to pick out!

There are also some problems with multiple choice questions. Multiple choice questions can lead to ‘intrusions’ from the wrong answer where you come to believe they are true (Butler & Roediger, 2008; Roediger & Marsh, 2005). The incorrect answers get stored as part of the memory. This means when the memory is retrieved again they are also part of it. If the memory is not strong then the retrieval of these wrong answers can be misattributed and you now remember the wrong answer as the right answer!  

Multiple choice questions also assess a different type of knowledge than written answer questions. Part of why you might think that a multiple choice exam is easier is that it tends to just test facts. This would mean you would probably revise differently for a multiple choice test than a test with a variety of questions. In fact, research suggests this is what happens (Melovitz Vasan et al, 2018). So by giving you a mix of questions – we are encouraging you to not only try to learn the facts but to try and understand them as well.

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