Questions Used in Tests

The Types of Questions Used in Tests: Advantages and Disadvantages

It is worth taking a regular look at the benefits and downsides of the types of questions that are widely used in tests these days and at the question banks they now often come from.

Multiple-Choice Type Questions

Benefits

  • These are easy and quick to score, either electronically or manually.
  • Possible to write them so that they evaluate a broad range of skills, including high-level thinking ability.
  • Possible to write them so that one test covers a lot of subject matter but can still be answered in class time.

Downsides 

  • Frequently designed to test a student’s skills in literacy e.g. if the questions are read carefully, it is easy for the student to recognize the answers even if he or she does not know much about the subject matter.
  • Gives students who are not very well prepared the opportunity to take a guess at the answer. Therefore, if their guesses are correct, they are given credit for knowledge they have not got.
  • Can expose the student to incorrect information, which may subsequently influence their thinking about a given subject.
  • It takes time and considerable skill to develop test questions, particularly good-quality questions.

True or False Type Questions

Benefits

  • Are easy and quick to correct.

Downsides

  • Thought to be a very unreliable type of assessment.
  • Frequently, questions are crafted so that the most part is true except for a single small and trivial fact that makes the entire statement false.
  • Encourages guesswork, and rewards it.

Short Answer Type Questions

Benefits

  • Easy and quick to write.
  • Easy and quick to correct.

Downsides

  • Encourages the students to memorize details and terms, which means their understanding of a subject area does not progress beyond the superficial.

Essay Type Questions

Benefits

  • Provides a number of different ways for students to showcase their knowledge and skills.
  • Is a good way of developing the writing skills of the student, especially the skills to develop well-reasoned and soundly supported arguments.

Downsides

  • Requires a lot of time to evaluate and grade.
  • Tends to make the criteria the student uses to develop answers subjective.
  • Tends to require fast writing with little time for revision or planning when used as class assignments. This can negatively impact writing quality.

Questions that Come from Test Banks

Benefits

  • Reduces or eliminates the amount of time, effort and energy that tutors usually have to invest in developing exam questions.
  • Mostly use the same methods and terms found in related textbooks.

Downsides

  • Seldom includes much evaluation, synthesis, analysis or application (research shows that around 85 percent of test bank questions test the participant’s recall abilities).
  • The scope of tests is often limited to the content of the text. Can lead students to believe that material taught in class is irrelevant or not important.

While it is easy to think the above question types are the only ones, there are other interesting variants. This article suggests one that begins with a question that should be revised and the answer provided in short form e.g. a single word or phrase. This one question should not offer any optional answers, but it should be accompanied by an alphabetical list of possible answers. The student then selects an answer from the list. Some answers can be reused, some are not valid, and the list contains more answer options than test questions. Essentially, this is a more sophisticated type of matching test. The test method is more challenging and it reduces the possibility of answering correctly by guesswork.

Bear in mind though that any new test format should be introduced to students prior to presenting it to them in an exam environment.

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