Humbled by a Multiple-Choice Test, I Make an Apology to my Former Students

by Judy Stone-Goldman on April 23, 2012

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multiple choice continuing ed speech pathology

I passed the test, but I'm humbled nevertheless

I’d like to apologize to my former students. All 30 years’ worth.

I’m sorry for the multiple choice questions I gave you, among which, I am sure, were some that made no sense, some that weren’t clearly written, and some that had inscrutable foils.

It’s not like I was ever a big fan of multiple choice tests, but as classes got larger, I gave in to the inevitable: tests that were heavier on short answer and lighter on essay or original answer. Because I still wanted students to have to know something and think (not just eliminate obviously incorrect answers), I tried to write questions that incorporated multiple pieces of information. And I tried to write foils that contained some truth.

My intentions were good. My efforts were exhaustive (and exhausting). And some of my results were good.

But I know there were questions that left you scratching your heads, gnashing your teeth, perhaps wishing ill on me. I do apologize.

I am writing this now because yesterday I spent a few hours completing activities for continuing education credits for my speech-language pathology license. I had to read articles and then take a quiz. I could see the questions ahead of time, and I could look at the articles while taking the quiz. Why wouldn’t I–and everyone else–get 100%?

I got 80%. On 25 questions, I made 5 errors. With 80% as the minimum passing grade, I  squeaked by and received credit, but gee…

80%?

When I was done, I was able to see the questions I got wrong. There were a few for which I had debated between two possible answers, one for which I had not been able to find the correct information no matter how often I reviewed the (interminably) long article, and one for which I had no explanation (it wasn’t even on my uncertainty radar).

Many people say, “I’m not a good test taker” as an explanation for poorer-than-desired performance, but that is not true for me. I have always been a dutiful student and a good test taker, well suited for the American educational system. For me to have this much difficulty with a test makes me suspicious.

So I have to wonder if there is some karma here, a little message from the universe telling me to send out an apology for any terrible questions I might have once written.

I also know, without any doubt, that one of my better decisions as an instructor was giving students a chance to submit explanations for incorrect responses, so they could get credit despite limitations of the test. Those explanations taught me more about writing good questions and answers than anything else.

And so my former students, I both apologize for my failings and thank you for what you taught me. My 80% test score now stands as a reminder of how much I miss you.

Questions for Reflection: What memories do you have of test taking? Have you ever been responsible for preparing tests? What would you like your former teachers to know?

Writing Prompts: “When I was in school, I ______” (then keep writing); “This post brings up memories of ______” (then keep writing); “For me, test taking was always ______” (then keep writing); “When I have to take a test now, I ______” (then keep writing).

 

 

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

sue bock
Twitter:
April 23, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Oh Boy. As a nurse I hate the multiple choice answers because they truly are not what I do in the real world. In the real world you doing multiple tasks at once. When I went to nursing school I struggled with the different type of testing. This all to prepare for taking the test for my license. I still have to take tests of the same ilk, just less often, thankfully. Thanks for being transparent of your experience.

Sue Bock
http://couragetoadventurecoaching.wordpress.com

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 7:50 am

Sue, My most recent licensure reexamination–which as for my counseling license–was an excellent test even though it used multiple choice. It involved clinical scenarios, and once you chose an answer, the next questions evolved from the situation as you were creating it. It was quite challenging and I loved having to think about real cases. That was probably the best short-answer exam I’ve ever taken. But it sure must have been labor intensive to create! The norm is more like what I just experienced–crazy making!

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Susan Berland
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 6:15 am

I recently took a series of exams for my certification and they were all multiple choice questions. The minimum score to pass was 88% and I kept missing one too many! I had the materials right in front of me and either couldn’t find the answer in the materials or couldn’t find the right answer in the choices. After passing all my exams and looking back, I found that they had some of their answers wrong! All is being fixed and is part of rolling out a new program.

Susan Berland

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 7:51 am

Susan, That must have brought you some relief and comfort (if not some irritation!) that in the end, you were right and the test was wrong. Glad you have that all behind you. I guess these tests are part of the price we pay for our certifications. But I sure feel sorry for kids who have a lifetime of this kind of test.

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Cory Zacker
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 6:20 am

This is very relevant to me right now, Judy, because here in NYC we had a bit of a “scandal” involving a recent set of questions on the 8th grade standardized English exams. Students had to read a story about a race between a hare and a pineapple. (Yes, a pineapple!) The story was ridiculous and the multiple choice questions that followed were even more ridiculous. Students, parents, teachers & principals all made a fuss and the department of education agreed to not have the question count.

Multiple choice questions can be useful, but often they are open to many interpretations. I love your idea of asking your students to defend their choices. Great lesson for all involved.
-Cory Zacker
http://www.mosaictutoring.com

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 7:53 am

Cory, I read the story about that exam and I also read about the hare and pineapple. While I understood what they were trying to get at, it was a startlingly ridiculous story and poor set of questions. I’m glad the question was eliminated. (Even when I read the story I was thinking, “oh, this is where they want to see if the child understands metaphor…and here they want to know if the child understands the word immobile…and so on). These poor kids. As I said in the blog, I was good at testing, but I understand that is not true for all children. As for having students defend their answers, often the really top notch students gave me such good responses, I learned from them! I also changed my questions for the better.

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Rowena Starling
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm

When I was in school, test taking was a BIG buggaboo until I got to the SATs. I was a very good to excellent student but the pressure of it all got to me. Then I was taught how to properly take a test. That eased the panic somewhat.

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Julieanne Case
Twitter:
April 24, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I just remember always being nervous as all get out and then usually getting an A or doing so much better than my worries and fraught ever conceived. I was always a major worrier and I studied hard. But tests wore me out!

Julieanne Case
Always from the heart!

Reconnecting you to your Original Blueprint, Your Essence, Your Joy| Healing you from the Inside Out |Reconnective Healing | The Reconnection| Reconnective Art |

http://thereconnectivehighway.com

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Cheryl McDonald
Twitter:
April 25, 2012 at 8:26 am

This post makes me laugh! Isn’t it funny how the Universe shows us things we need to learn? I was a decent test taker and I did study, however there were teachers that were really quite lunatic about some of their tests. I am thinking about going back to school and am hoping that most of what I will need to take will be hands on studio classes. That I can handle!

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Maureena Bivins, PhD
Twitter:
April 25, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Talk about ambiguity–that was the nature of the state licensing test I had to take to become an acupuncturist. It was multiple questions too. I barely squeaked by. It’s a sad commentary on our educational system. On a regular basis acupuncture students would form class action lawsuits against the state board because they felt defrauded after going through the educational process only to be shut out due to a poorly conceived test.

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Vicki Dello Joio
Twitter:
April 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I am not a good test taker, though I think I am a good thinker. Tests have usually stressed me out. At the same time, I am thinking of a student of mine who is a kindergarten teacher who taught her kids in a “high risk” qigong which they practiced before taking standardized tests. (Did we HAVE those in kindergarten when we were that age??)
Anyway all of the kids did better than expected except the one little boy who needed to use the bathroom which the qigong was being practiced and who stayed tense and tested poorly.

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Amy
Twitter:
April 27, 2012 at 3:52 am

I am reminded sadly of my student days and how I grumbled when the tests fell short of my expectations. Who wouldn’t when you have spent the better part of the week doing hard review and not one of the items showed up? It’s been frustrating to say the least especially if the test is irrelevant and poorly made.

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Popcorn Popper May 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm

As a student, I loved multiple choice tests, coz for the question for which you’ve no clue also, you can tick any of the multiple choice answers and if you’re lucky, that might be the write one. Don’t people love questions coming with answers ? ;)

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
May 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm

That’s one way to look at it, Popcorn Popper! You know the answer is somewhere in there, so you do have a bit of a head start!

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