Deeper thinking and creative classroom use of MCQs

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) or multiple response questions (MRQs) can be more than just knowledge recall questions. They can be used to analyse data or to access higher levels of learning. This blog covers what they are and links to further pages detailing how you can write more complex questions as well as offering a few examples of use and tips for good questions.

concept-2844812_960_720A key advantage of MCQs is that they are easy to mark giving the opportunity for instant feedback and can act as a useful learning tool. Blackboard quizzes, as well as Google Forms, have the option of individual feedback, based on the response selected which can also be presented as screencasts and videos. Writing good questions does take work as plausible responses for both correct and incorrect answers are needed. A well-designed MCQ assessment can cover a breadth of content providing an objective measurement of ability.

One criticism of MCQs is that they only assess memory, knowledge and understanding. They can, however, be written to evaluate higher order thinking skills, such as the ability to apply, analyse and evaluate information. It is worth noting that, when used for summative assessment, the highest orders of thinking such ascreation are out of the reach of MCQs as the answers are predetermined. With only a single or limited answer being possible it is also impossible to demonstrate a breadth of understanding outside the scope of the question stem. So although they are useful, they should be thought of as part of a broader assessment strategy.

MCQs can be useful for the following aspects:

  • Recall of facts
  • Comprehension of text/graphics/data
  • Numerical skills
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Anything that leads to a right/wrong statement of fact
  • Prompted recall of the clearly stated arguments, points of view or opinions of the authors of key texts
  • Evaluation of the validity of logical arguments and conclusions based on evidence

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How then do you go about writing more complex questions? The links below take you to pages dedicated to each of the following topics. They can be read in order or you can dip in and out of any of them:

  1. Higher order questioning with MCQs
  2. Using MCQs during teaching sessions
  3. Tips for writing good questions
  4. Resource list and biography 

#big thanks to Mel Green for editing and proofing these pages and Danny Allwood for content (panic button and other ideas).

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