Building a multiple-choice quiz

One of the things I’m trying out this semester is a open-book multiple-choice quiz, both of which are new things for me.  My traditional mistrust of MCQs is that they promote closed thinking and don’t allow the student to express their own thoughts.  However, a mix of circumstance and willingness to try out new things presented me with the opportunity to do this, so I’ve embraced it with open arms.

Today’s the day I’m writing out my draft questions and it has been instructive for me to think about how I can make the most of the MCQ, which I’m running in class in two weeks’ time.

Firstly, there needs to be some element of summative assessment, checking that students have got the main points of substantive knowledge. The module deals with European integration, so there’s no shortage of such material, especially since we’ve covered 70 years of history in the previous weeks.

Secondly, there also needs to be a strong dose of formative assessment, helping students to reflect on what’s central in working through the rest of the module (which deals mainly with institutions).  Here I’m looking to get them thinking about the key principles that emerge from the historical overview and which shape the current situation in the EU.

Thirdly, I want to tie in the seminar summaries that students have been producing each week on particular case studies.  These summaries have generally been a good exercise, both for encouraging student preparation and participation in seminars, and for creating learning resources.  By making this link (which I’ve been stressing repeatedly to students), I hope I can both valorise their seminar discussions and focus future such discussions towards supporting their work for assessment (since the summaries aren’t assessed themselves).

Finally, the MCQ needs to underline the importance of preparation. Students will be allowed to bring any materials with them into the exam, and can talk to each other, but I have pointed out that this will not be a substitute for revision. With 45 questions in 45 minutes, I also want to make sure that any such activity has an impact on their ability to complete all the questions, so I’m likely to create some longer texts on which to base questions.

I’ll report back when it’s done, but comments are very welcome.

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