With the nationwide dictate for standardized testing, your mandated involvement with multiple-choice items has probably already exceeded your projective powers and will likely persist indefinitely. Understandably, you may be as overwhelmed by these items as are your students. However, as this chapter will demonstrate, there is reason for the widespread use of multiple-choice items on standardized as well as teacher-made tests.
As evidenced by the disproportionate number of psychometrically approved multiple-choice items on standardized achievement and aptitude tests, this may be the most powerful, versatile, and economical test that is currently available to teachers, administrators, accountability officers, and admission officials. This does not indicate that this is the best test, however, because there is no such instrument. The best test is the one that best suits the examiner’s purpose. Still, the multiple-choice test is readily adaptable to the measurement of academic achievement in most cognitive levels within each of the major content areas, as well as the daily living skills and employability training areas. It is conducive to the use of illustrations and interpretations and can measure the understanding and application of facts and concepts, as well as the ability to separate unified wholes into connected relationships. Moreover, it provides for a wide sampling of material during a relatively brief period of time at each of the hierarchical levels, with the exception of Synthesis and Evaluation, which we perceive as the only two levels within the Taxonomy that call for divergent as opposed to convergent thinking. To clarify, convergent thinking leads to conventionally accepted test answers, such as 2 + 2 = 4. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, can travel in many different directions, such as writing a unique story or defending a political position. We will discuss the best options for divergent thinking in subsequent chapters.
A primary reason for the multiple-choice item’s effectiveness in the measurement of higher-order thinking skills is its provision for homogeneous options: the more homogeneous the options, the more challenging the item. This homogeneity gives the multiple-choice test its discriminative powers.
A criticism of this item is the difficulty of devising a single best option. As previously mentioned, homogeneity within the options of an item is essential, but there has to be one best option. It is the responsibility of the test constructor to provide for one best response while simultaneously maintaining similarity among the distractors. Another problem is the difficulty in constructing plausible distractors. If two of the distractors on a four-option item are obviously incorrect, it becomes a true-false rather than a multiple-choice item. Yet, such weakness can be avoided by a competent and conscientious teacher.