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On February 9, 2015 | By admin

Assessments in the form of a test are essential as there is no other effective way of determining one’s proficiency in a particular subject. However, the testing methodology is critical.

We have witnessed a proliferation of MCQ based testing in the past decade; more so in the past few years as technology has started playing a role. Screen-based tests, whether using computers or mobile devices, are becoming increasingly common. MCQs are used not just for formative assessments in the form of quizzes in classrooms but have become all pervasive. Not much thought is given to framing questions and answer choices. Often times, there is no analysis of questions post an exam. MCQs are used for admission tests at various levels, recruitment tests across industries and government agencies, certification exams and even as a part of appraisals in companies. Some universities even offer MBA degrees via distance learning by simply administering an MCQ based assessment. How effective can these be? Have institutions simply turned a blind eye to more effective methods of evaluation and chosen to go with speed and convenience of MCQs, especially as Computer Based Tests or Online Assessments?

Have we done enough research in India to identify the pitfalls of such testing practices that may be unfair to students and test takers in general? If such assessment does not provide any guarantees on the merit of a student, is it prudent to rely on the scores to recruit students and employees or declare students competent enough to be awarded a degree or a diploma?

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest.org), a U.S. based organisation that advances quality education and equal opportunity by promoting fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools has the following to say about the use of MCQs in testing.

“Relying on multiple-choice tests as a primary method of assessment is educationally dangerous for many reasons:

1) Because of cultural assumptions and biases, the tests may be inaccurate. (Of course, other kinds of assessments also can be biased.) Assuming the test is accurate because of its supposedly “objective” format may lead to making bad decisions about how best to teach a student.

2) Students may recognise or know facts or procedures well enough to score high on the test, but not be able to think about the subject or apply knowledge, even though being able to think and apply is essential to “knowing” any subject. Therefore, the conclusion or inference that a student “knows” history or science because she got a high score on a multiple-choice test may be false.

3) What is easily measurable may not be as important as what is not measurable or is more difficult to measure. A major danger with high stakes multiple-choice and short-answer tests — tests that have a major impact on curriculum and instruction — is that only things that are easily measured are taught.

4) Since the questions usually must be answered quickly and have only one correct answer, students learn that problems for which a single answer cannot be chosen quickly are not important.

5) When schools view multiple-choice tests as important, they often narrow their curriculum to cover only what is on the exams. For example, to prepare for multiple-choice tests, curriculum may focus on memorising definitions and recognising (naming) concepts. This will not lead students to understand important scientific principles, grasp how science is done, and think about how science affects their lives.

6) When narrow tests define important learning, instruction often gets reduced to “drill and kill” – - lots of practice on questions that look just like the test. In this case, students often get no chance to read real books, to ask their own questions, to have discussions, to challenge texts, to conduct experiments, to write extended papers, to explore new ideas — that is, to think about and really learn a subject.”

In the Indian context, it becomes even more important to study the implications of such testing practices owing to the complexity presented by the diversity of test takers in terms of their ethnic, cultural and sociology-economic backgrounds and language proficiency. As tests move from pen and paper to screen-based, either as Online Assessments or Computer Based Tests (CBT) it is important for educationists and education administrators to ponder over the nuances of assessments before churning out MCQ based tests with a single correct or best answer, with no thought paid to the outcomes of such tests. Educational research organisations and universities will do well to further the research and adopt testing methodologies that are more meaningful in the future.

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