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Understanding the psychology of the multiple choice questions

When looking at declarative memory e. Recall memory is like taking an essay test — you just have to write whatever you can about a topic.

The Psychology of Multiple-Choice Tests

Recognition memory is like taking a multiple-choice test — the answer is in front of you even if the answer is none of the above. The questions and answers serve as cues that can stimulate your memory.

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If you have good recall you should have good recognition; if you have poor recall you might still have good recognition you can also have poor recall and recognition. Why do some people just not like multiple-choice tests? Good multiple-choice tests are also organized how class material was organized — that is, topics or chapters all lumped together.

I know many people disagree with that point but the test questions and not the test structure should serve to distinguish between people who really understand the material and those who do not. In other words, the structure of the test should serve to facilitate memory by grouping topics and chapters together. Tests should also be given in the context in which material was learned for best results. For example, I wrote a question once that sought to pull out knowledge about where modern intelligence tests were developed i.

So to test this instead of just asking what country they were developed in, I asked what was a possible name of someone who would have taken one of the early tests a French name was the correct answer. That was a fairly straightforward and simple example but testing in that manner i.

Multiple Choice Questions

All my test questions were not like that but that is a very effective way to test. Sometimes this entails expanding a question to include a general statement about a topic, then asking something specific.

It should never be a distractor though unless the question warrants it — for example, on a question about cognitive inhibition or the frontal lobes, then a distractor sentence could be included for astute students to catch the principle of it and be taught, or at least appreciate it.

Tests should be constructed to teach. For me, making tests is an art. They should be crafted to help students, facilitate learning, as well as separate the wheat from the chaff. My test-making philosophy and psychology is based on differentiating the poor from the mediocre students and the mediocre from the good and the good from the great.

This is a philosophy that students do not particularly like because it means that I try to write difficult tests. Difficult is not tricky or nit-picky although it is good to have a couple nit-picky questionsdifficult is well-written, requiring reasoning and deeper thinking. When writing tests I try to avoid both ceiling and floor effects. Getting all the questions correct is possible but rare i. I try to write my tests to have an average score in the mid 70s. Having an average in the mid 70s basically guarantees that there are no floor or ceiling effects and that the test is not too difficult that it is frustrating to too many people.

So now to test-taking strategies. Work through the test as quickly as possible answering the questions that you can answer right away. Always go with your first impression about an answer unless you understanding the psychology of the multiple choice questions sure that you need to change your answer or if your first impression was just a guess.

Look for patterns in answers. In this case the answer is B assuming the question is something like which group of psychologists are all behaviorists? Notice that Watson is repeated twice, Thorndike is repeated 3 times, and Skinner is repeated twice.

2 Replies to “The Psychology of Multiple-Choice Tests”

If you knew nothing about the question you could use logic to figure it out. This does not always work but it often does. Related the point 4, always try to rule out any answers that you know are not true. Then if you have to guess, you have better odds. This works one tests that penalize you for wrong answers like many standardized tests do. If a multiple-choice test is designed to subtract. So if you have no idea about the answer, guess one of those. If there is an all or none of the above, take a close look at those.

Too much anxiety can ruin even a well-prepared test-taker.

  1. The last thing you should do before turning in your answer sheet is to check that you have answered every single question.
  2. My goal is to design questions that students who understand will answer correctly and students who do not understand will answer incorrectly. If the correct answer does not jump out at you right away, see if you can eliminate some of the options as definitely wrong.
  3. Roades at California State University, Pomona, authored a web page on multiple choice questions that served as a source of ideas for the layout of the page.

Tell yourself that you can do well. Tell yourself that you are a good multiple-choice test-taker. Studying for multiple choice tests is different than studying for essay examinations. Read over all the salient material then read over it again I find it helpful personally to read it multiple times quickly. Multiple-choice tests are usually about breadth and not depth.