The Woes of Multiple Choice

Multiple choice in its current state is pretty bad. Ambiguity between answer choices can screw up a student. The reward for “process of elimination” (removing terrible answers) is usually based on luck. And if someone doesn’t know the answer and guesses… once again, luck. The way test-makers seem to want to counteract this is by 1) making every answer except the correct one completely terrible and 2) make a ton of terrible test questions (Law of Large Numbers, I suppose).

While multiple-choice is already a pretty bad format in of itself (something like the grading procedure the AIME uses is pretty easy to implement and better for large-scale automated grading), it doesn’t seem teachers will be moving away from it. So can we make multiple choice better?

Split the Point

I propose the following grading system for multiple choice be used instead:

  1. Allow students to pick as many choices as they want.
  2. If they get the answer right, they get 1/(amount of choices they picked) points.

In practice this will eliminate in-test stress. If you’ve got the answers down to 2 choices, rather than having to guess which one is right, you can choose both. It gets annoying when you have to think about one stupid question for the rest of the test because “What if I got it wrong?” and proceed to alternate between two choices.

This also rewards “partial knowledge” (knowing some but not all of the content). If you can figure out an answer or two are ridiculous, you should be rewarded for that in a consistent manner. This does exactly that.

I’ve seen teachers put “co-dependent questions” (they basically amount to being the same question) to avoid this issue and let students guess two options.

An example:

  1. What is a potato? (A) A vegetable (B) A fruit
  2. Name a vegetable. (A) Potato (B) Banana

You can assume a potato is a vegetable and a fruit and get half the points (guaranteed!) by answering 1. (B) and 2. (A). But this is annoying and cumbersome. Nobody wants to take a test like this. Why do people write tests like this?

Splitting the point would make it so you can guess (A) and (B) for the following question and not pray to the RNG gods:

What is a potato?
(A) A vegetable
(B) A fruit
(C) A Nintendo console
(D) Clothing

You can reward your students for not being an absolute moron consistently if you adopt this system.

(By the way, a potato is a vegetable.)


How would this work with true/false sections? The answer is simple: STOP DOING TRUE/FALSE.

Fill in the Blank/Matching

Fine as is.

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