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Fig.: Andreas Vollmer

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - E-Assessment

Exam Design: Multiple Choice

The multiple choice procedure is listed at the HU Berlin as an independent form of examination in the ZSP-HU. In the actual sense, however, it is a form of presentation of the exam questions: as multiple choice with some additional options such as matching, reordering and text input. This procedure is predominantly used in closed-book examinations, but would also be imaginable in open-book examinations.

Multiple Choice with the Test Module (Moodle)

Examination tasks with multiple choice are tasks in which one or more answers must be selected from a set of answer alternatives. The best known type is multiple choice, where one (single response) or more (multiple response) correct answers have to be ticked or clicked.

However, matching tasks (e.g. drag-and-drop tasks) and cloze tasks with list fields are also assigned to the multiple choice method at the HU Berlin because the Moodle test module supports these variations.

A fixed key (percentage achieved - grade) must be used for the assessment of examinations in the multiple choice procedure (see §96c, (4), (5) ZSP-HU, 8th change).


What are the advantages of the multiple choice method?

With multiple choice tasks, automatic correction is possible (i.e. no personnel effort) if they are set with the help of a computer. The method is therefore very well suited for large cohorts. The assessment is independent of the person. If the tasks are created correctly, the assessment is error-free, because, for example, there are no errors when adding up the points. Examinees can see their results (if the examiners wish) immediately after completing the examination.

Scoring is often more transparent than scoring tasks that require an answer in text format, because the answer does not need to be interpreted. Examinees must respond directly to the question. Examiners do not receive answers that are not or only partially related to the question, nor do they have to decide how many points to award for each answer that is partially correct.

Cheating (in the form of copying / collaborating) can be reduced by using random questions. To do this, examiners create several different questions that test the same competence with the same level of difficulty (for example, assignments with the same task but different numerical examples or different linguistic examples). From these tasks, one question is drawn at random for each examinee. In this way, a separate examination can be created for almost every examinee.

The variety of task types in the answer-choice method (multiple choice, matching, cloze texts, drag-and-drop) makes it possible to test very simple (e.g. definitions) to very complex content (e.g. analysis and application tasks).


What disadvantages can arise with the multiple choice procedure compared to other exam forms?

The preparation of multiple choice tasks is time-consuming. The tasks must be designed in such a way that the answers cannot be guessed by the process of elimination. Wrong answer alternatives must be clearly wrong, but still seem plausible if one does not have the required knowledge.

As a rule, multiple choice tasks are easier for examinees because the correct answer only has to be recognised (and not phrased by oneself). Technical vocabulary, for example, can only be tested as passive vocabulary.

The multiple choice method is only suitable to a limited extent for testing certain competencies (e.g. visual representations or calculations, see question "When is the multiple choice method suitable?"). The assessment of sub-competencies is also challenging.

Those who use the multiple choice procedure must ensure that the examinees are familiar with the types of tasks. Students should be given the opportunity to take a sample exam.

Another disadvantage is that, according to the ZSP-HU, questions in the multiple choice procedure must be set by two examiners (ZSP-HU §96c (2), 8th change).


When is the multiple choice method suitable?

The multiple choice method is particularly useful when the question has a clear answer (e.g. What is the finite verb of the sentence X? What is the name of the capital of X? What is the active ingredient of the medicine X? The procedure can also be used if the answer consists of several parts (e.g. Click all cities with more than 1 million inhabitants).

Calculations can be checked well using the multiple choice procedure if only the final result is evaluated. If the procedure for the calculation is clear (i.e. there are not several ways of calculating), intermediate results can of course also be checked.

If the answer requires visual representations (e.g. linguistic structure trees, geographical maps), one can offer several representations if necessary and ask which is the correct one. In this case, however, the assessment of sub-competences is again only possible to a limited extent. One option is to award half the points for an "almost correct" representation.

Translation competences cannot be tested directly. However, it is possible to test these competences through comprehension questions, if indeed only comprehension counts and not, for example, phrasing competence in the target language.

The multiple choice procedure is often used to test whether examinees can recognise the correct answer. It does not necessarily test whether examinees have the knowledge actively at their disposal. For example, if an examinee ticks the answer "The preposition is governed by the verb" to the question "How do you recognise a prepositional object?", this does not necessarily mean that the examinee would recognise a prepositional object in a sentence. However, it is possible to construct questions that require examinees to demonstrate analytical knowledge. In the case just described, for example, one could give a selection of sentences and ask which of the sentences contains a prepositional object.

The multiple choice procedure is not suitable if the examinees are to take and defend a point of view, evaluate or justify something (for example: Should children grow up multilingual?). In addition, the multiple choice method is not suitable for testing verbal skills.


What are the basic challenges of the multiple choice method?

Multiple choice exams require a lot of preparation time. The preparation of the questions is relatively time-consuming. In addition, students must be familiarised with the procedure. A computer must be available or provided for the examinees (in the case of computer-based procedures).


Is it necessary to have an alternative exam form ready?

If the subject-specific study or examination regulations specify that the module final examination (written examination in multiple choice procedure) can only be provided or carried out using electronic information and communication technologies, and if the student makes a credible case that he or she does not have the technical prerequisites, compensation for disadvantages is granted according to §109 (§107a (7) ZSP-HU, 8th change). This compensation can be granted, for example, by designating a different form of examination and is determined by the responsible examination board.

However, one could also provide the electronic multiple choice procedure in printed form and examine it in presence.

(status 2/19/2021)