No Choices Rather Than Multiple Choices

A key to preparing students for standardized multiple choice tests is to not give them multiple choice tests in class. I first heard this at a conference around 15 years ago (unfortunately, I can’t recall the speaker’s name or the research she cited), and my experience bears it out. A big reason for this from what I’ve seen is that students develop a stronger test-taking work ethic when they’re accustomed to digging for answers without the distraction of the right answer staring them in the face. Similarly, because wrong answers are also staring them in the face on multiple choice tests, the more conditioned kids are to working through test questions thoroughly, the less vulnerable they are to incorrect “distractor” choices on standardized tests.

You don’t, of course, want to avoid multiple choice questions in class to the point where students stumble on standardized tests because of the format more so than the content. Yet even when I assigned multiple choice practice in college entrance test prep classes, I advised students to work through each question with the choices covered up, and then compare their answer with the choices. And again, they fell prey to distractor answers far less often as a result.

This multiple choice moratorium makes even more sense when high-stakes tests include questions other than multiple choice, as is the case in Pennsylvania where the state test (PSSA) consists of multiple choice and constructed response questions. The point being that whereas a steady diet of constructed response questions also prepares students for the multiple choice section, it doesn’t work the other way around.

So if you want students to pick the right choices on standardized tests, you need to make the right choice when developing your tests: questions with no choices rather than multiple ones.


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