Deciding which exam question type to use
Fixed-Choice questions: Require students to select the correct response from several alternatives or supply a word or short phrase to answer a question. Include multiple-choice, true/false, matching, and completion questions.
Most appropriate when:
- You have a large group to test, and you may want to reuse the exam
- You are able to efficiently obtain reliable exam scores
- Impartiality of scoring, absolute fairness, and freedom from scoring influences (such as fatigue and lack of anonymity) are essential
- You are more confident of your ability to construct well written questions than of your ability to judge essay exams
- There is more pressure for speedy scoring and reporting of scores than for speedy exam preparation
- You want to assess factual knowledge
Open-Ended questions: Require students to write and present an original answer. Include short-answer essay, extended-response essay, problem solving, and performance tasks.
Most appropriate when:
- You have a small group to test and the test is not going to be reused
- You want to encourage and reward development of writing skills
- You are more interested in examining the student’s attitudes than in measuring achievement
- You are more confident of your ability as a critical and fair reader than in constructing well written questions.
- You want to encourage creativity
- Your course learning objectives require expression of values, opinion, explanation or interpretations
- There is more than one correct answer
Use either type of exam to:
- Assess understanding and ability to apply principles
- Assess ability to think critically
- Assess ability to solve problems
- Assess ability to select relevant facts and principles and to integrate them to solve complex problems
The type of exam used should match the learning objectives of the course!
Gronlund, N. E. (1998). Assessment of student achievement. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Hellyer, S. (n.d.). A teaching handbook for university faculty. Chapter 3: essay tests. Retrieved October 1, 1998 from Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis Web site: http://www.iupui.edu/~profdev/handbook/chap3.html (URL no longer correct).
Hellyer, S. (n.d.). A teaching handbook for university faculty. Chapter 9: Multiple-choice exams. Retrieved October 1, 1998 from Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis Web site: http://www.iupui.edu/~profdev/handbook/chap9.html (URL no longer correct).
Improving Your Test Questions. Retrieved July 21, 2006 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Instructional Resources, Division of Measurement and Evaluation Web site: http://www.oir.uiuc.edu/dme/exams/ITQ.html
Sevenair, J. P., & Burkett, A. R. (1997). Overview of the multiple-choice format. Retrieved July 21, 2006 from the Xaviar University of Louisiana Web site: http://webusers.xula.edu/jsevenai/objective/overview.html