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Research School Network: How effective is multiple choice quizzing? A) Very Effective B) Effective C) Ineffective In the face of content heavy specs testing is often underused. Multiple choice quizzing may provide a time efficient solution


How effective is multiple choice quizzing? A) Very Effective B) Effective C) Ineffective

In the face of content heavy specs testing is often underused. Multiple choice quizzing may provide a time efficient solution

testing can have an intrinsic effect on the memory of studied material’
Charles B Kromann, Morten L Jensen and Charlotte Ringsted, 2008

The effects of testing for long term retention and transfer have been the focus of much research in recent years, with conclusive findings that testing has positive impacts on learning and subsequent recommendations that it should not be seen simply as a means of assessment.

In their paper Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention’, Roediger and Karpicke argue that testing remains an undervalued and underused strategy for learning. Bjork identifies testing as a desirable difficulty – a condition of instruction that creates difficulties for learners, often slowing the rate of apparent learning, but in doing so optimizing long term retention and transfer. For a more detailed analysis of the Testing Effect” please click here to read Andy Tharby’s excellent blog on the matter.

What type of testing?

Despite the robust evidence behind testing, as earlier stated, it is often underused in the classroom. This may be because of the perceived lack of performance/​learning it can create, and the pressures teachers face in regard to content heavy specifications and limited teaching time. Traditional testing has often relied on short answer questioning that is open ended in nature or multiple-choice quizzing. Frequently it has been the former that is favored in the classroom, potentially due to some studies suggesting it produces better retention” (Bjork, Little and Storm, 2014). McDermott et al (2013) further argue that retrieval testing that engenders more effortful generative processes (i.e. Short answer quizzing) can enhance later memory more than those are completed with relative ease. In addition, MCQ has been criticized for not replicating the format of the majority of summative and national examinations. However short answer quizzing often takes more time to administer and feedback on, and the positive comparative benefits to MCQ have been proved in many cases to be negligible (McDermott et al, 2013).

Does Multiple Choice Quizzing work?

Multiple choice quizzing is nothing new, but there have always been questions (as outlined above) about is effectiveness, however there is an increasing body of research advocating its increased us. For example, Roediger et al (2011) found in experiments with 6th grade social studies students that students were more likely to correctly answer end of semester exams if the information being tested has been previously tested on in class MCQs. As such MCQ may have the potential to provide the positive impact of testing without the high demand of staff and student time, that often leads to its underuse.

In a study of undergraduate students over two 10-week terms, Bjork et al (2014) gave students 5 multiple choice quizzes 3 – 4 days after attending a lecture. These MCQ were then graded and returned to students a further 3 – 4 days later. The researchers were interested in two main avenues. Primarily did the testing, come end of semester exam, result in improved retention of specifically tested knowledge (i.e. content directly covered in the tests) and secondly did it improve student’s ability to answer question on related knowledge (i.e. questions conceptually related to items quizzed by the MCQ, but not directly tested before).

The results of the exams indicated that in both cases the regular multiple-choice quizzing had resulted in significant improvements in student’s ability to answer questions. The measurable difference in student’s ability to answer related knowledge questions, suggests that the benefits of testing (especially though MCQ) are not just limited to the specific information being practices but also benefit the learning of conceptually similar info.
McDermott et al (2013) also put pay to the concern that MCQ will rarely reflect the question type students will face in their final examinations, with results of their study into over 1407th grade students, observing that the format of the quizzing did not have to match the format of the end of unit exam for the benefits to occur.

Why does Multiple Choice Quizzing work?

In the discussion of their results Bjork, Little and Storm attempted to theorize why MCQ has produced such observable benefits for retention of specific and related knowledge. They suggest that the grading of the MCQ, as with any testing, was vital, by highlighting to students concepts they did not understand or needed to understand better, and therefore focusing their future studies. It may have also been that the knowledge of frequent testing meant that students were encouraged to go back over lecture notes after the lecture and prior to the test, thus creating a distributed practice situation.

They also suggest that in trying to answer the MCQ students are forced to consider all alternative answers, searching for relevant knowledge in the process so as to determine the correct and incorrect options. Such a situation may strengthen the association between recalled knowledge and the correct answer, while this process may have significant benefits for related knowledge questions, as students have to recall knowledge to reason why incorrect answers are in fact incorrect – it is not answer C because….”

It is important however that the incorrect answers are competitive” for them to invoke high quality recall processes. Incorrect answers that are implausible lessen the challenge to the task and reduce the need for recall. To prove this Bjork completed a laboratory experiment in which the plausibility of the incorrect alternatives was systematically manipulated. The results found that test takers ability to answer related questions on a delayed test was only enhanced when the correct answer in the prior testing had been competing with plausibly incorrect answers.

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