Galloway: Get rid of multiple choice

Columnist Noah Galloway argues that professors should do away with multiple choice questions on tests. 

Noah Galloway

Let’s not kid ourselves — multiple choice tests are used because professors are lazy or colleges have become such a money-making machine it’s impossible for a teacher to connect with all 324 of his/her lecture hall students. Students can use tips and tricks to do well on this type of test, yet they may not actually understand it.

The skill of recognition does not translate to being able to explain a concept. In the workforce, students are going to be working on project-based assignments rather than taking multiple choice tests. 

Ease of grading is a huge factor when testing is the topic of conversation. Professors don’t have to do anything but let the machines grade the tests. When convenience dictates the academic experience, it means the educational system is clearly flawed. The author went on to discuss how memorization of a narrow subject can be completed without gaining competency in a specific topic through strategic studying. These skills do not translate to successfully completing projects within future career paths.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for solutions by using short-answer questions and administering project-based tests and research papers. A student may know nothing about a topic, but they might recognize a certain answer without even knowing what it means. There is no way of knowing whether the student knows the topic when the answer is given to them.

Teachers have strategies to make the multiple choice question as confusing as possible, so the student could, in theory, know the answer but be too confused by the phrasing of the question to the point where two answers could seem right. Students don’t have the opportunity to show how much they know. With the short answer, a teacher can understand the thought process of the student, and being able to explain something is truly knowing it. 

I feel obligated to discuss the counterargument for multiple choice tests because it does exist. Multiple choice allows for a test to cover a vast range of topics, allowing the professor to check to see if the student understands all the subject material discussed in class. These tests are objective because they avoid biases of the people who grade the test.

One student could have a grader who is hard on students, and another could have a lenient and forgiving grader. Scoring is very easy because a machine takes care of the grunt work and the professor can focus on the lesson rather than the tedious process of grading. 

This issue stems from the inability for professors to handle hundreds of students. For the university, it’s too much to ask teachers to individualize learning to this monstrous number of students. College institutions are money-making machines that value revenue over the quality of the education. This means professors have to handle a large workload, and they don’t have time to create a learning environment on an individual basis.

To simplify this argument, multiple choice tests aren’t a staple of the workforce, and it’s usually not a skill that will translate into the workforce.