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Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Test Questions

It’s good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used test questions and the test banks that now frequently provide them.

Multiple-choice questions

Advantages

Disadvantages

True-false questions

Advantages

Disadvantages

Short-answer questions

Advantages

Disadvantages

Essay questions

Advantages

Disadvantages

Questions provided by test banks

Advantages

Disadvantages

We tend to think that these are the only test question options, but there are some interesting variations. The article that promoted this review proposes one: Start with a question, and revise it until it can be answered with one word or a short phrase. Do not list any answer options for that single question, but attach to the exam an alphabetized list of answers. Students select answers from that list. Some of the answers provided may be used more than once, some may not be used, and there are more answers listed than questions. It’s a ratcheted-up version of matching. The approach makes the test more challenging and decreases the chance of getting an answer correct by guessing.

Remember, students do need to be introduced to any new or altered question format before they encounter it on an exam.

Editor’s note: The list of advantages and disadvantages comes in part from the article referenced here. It also cites research evidence relevant to some of these advantages and disadvantages.

Reference: McAllister, D., and Guidice, R.M. (2012). This is only a test: A machine-graded improvement to the multiple-choice and true-false examination. Teaching in Higher Education, 17 (2), 193-207.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 28.3 (2014): 8. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.