Thoughts About Multiple Choice/Standardized Tests

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Some time ago, in a half-awake early morning state, I came up with this article outline, and its somewhat cheeky conclusions, which I then posted on a former version of this site 🙂

April 8, 2010 — So I woke up about 6:15 am, and was laying there thinking about things… and started composing an article in my head.  Well, I wasn’t really composing an article.  I was just thinking about stuff and realized it was a potential article.  Especially after I caught myself thinking about it in outline form!  Then I realized I do know a fair amount about a lot of different things – at least enough to write articles about them.
So I thought, maybe I should write down the general gist of this outline while it’s still in my head… so here it is…  (and maybe, after all, it’s just a result of my lack of sleep during the night, but just in case it isn’t, here goes!)

Why Kids Fail Multiple Choice Exams

1.  They don’t “know” the material:

a. They missed the teaching.

b. They didn’t understand the teaching:

i.  It was presented in overly complex language.

ii.  They didn’t have sufficient background knowledge.

iii. There was a personality conflict between them and the teacher.

c. They couldn’t comprehend the material:

i. Reading difficulties.

ii.  ESL.

d. They studied too much or crammed, or…

e. They didn’t “study” hard enough.

2.  They aren’t multiple-choice-test-wise:

a. They don’t realize they must look for the “one best answer.”

b. They don’t realize it is usually best to skip questions one isn’t sure about (and come back later if other questions provide a hint!).

c. They don’t realize that if one must answer every question, the first guess is usually the best guess.

d. They are creative thinkers and see the potential “rightness” in many of the choices.

e. They don’t realize that the root line in the question is key; so they don’t read it carefully enough.

f.They aren’t trained to look for “trick” questions and answers.

3.  They aren’t “interested” in the material or in the testing:

a. It doesn’t seem to be related to their own lives:

i. Culturally.

ii.  Economically/ socially.

iii. Current peer culture.

iv. Family encouragement or lack thereof.

b. It doesn’t seem to relate to their goals in life.

c. They “just don’t care”:

i. They already are conditioned to believe they will fail anyway.

ii. It isn’t considered cool to do well.

d. They are more interested in mathematical possibilities: e.g.: if I choose a) for #1, b)  for #2, c) for #3, d) for #4, and continue that pattern, what are the chances I’ll pass this test? (probably pretty good, actually!)

4.  They have “personal” difficulties:

a. They were sick on test day.

b. They were worried/ distracted on test day:

i. Home difficulties.

ii. Bad news.

iii. In love.

iv.  Big game coming up later in the day.

c. They didn’t have a healthy breakfast.

d. They have personal learning styles which:

i. Don’t support the particular form of teaching style.

ii. Don’t support the particular form of learning style/ activities.

iii. Don’t support the particular form of testing style.

e. They were up all night because the TV was blaring and/or the parents were partying.

Etc. Etc. Etc….

Which is why once-a-year multiple choice standardized tests (particularly; but also multiple choice tests generally), are often very poor indicators of a child’s overall knowledge and understanding; and why determining how well a child is actually learning, or even what they are learning (often many unintended lessons occur while the intended lesson is completely missed!), is a very complex business.
And thus, assessment should take place constantly throughout the teaching, learning, practicing and testing processes.  (Yes, the teaching process too, since that can very often be failing, itself.  Sorry, teachers…been there, done that myself…).
Furthermore, learning really is “proved” at some later point in life when the child has the opportunity to use that knowledge in real ways.  And those ways are not always job-related, or further-education related, believe it or not.  They are more likely to be “proved” in:

  • off-the-cuff conversations with some random person in a coffee shop, or
  • in the understanding of what some one is explaining; or
  • in relating to a movie or story or video game or magazine article, or
  • making a good dinner, or
  • drawing a picture, or
  • making an informed decision about something seemingly quite unrelated to the original learning, or
  • trying out new-to-you foods and enjoying them, or
  • adjusting to new/ different situations

Etc. Etc. Etc….

Which is why most prospective employers, love interests, organization recruiters, friends, allies–and increasingly, higher educational facilities–could care less about the results of a kid’s multiple-choice test marks.
Ho! Ho!  Each section of my notes above could be developed into a lengthy article of its own. Yep, I could even write a whole book.  And it all came out of my head, at 6:30 in the morning when I was still half-asleep.  Based on my own experiences.  I’m an expert!  Yay!
Obviously, I just need to jot down the key points of every conversation I take part in or overhear, every situation I observe, every set of meandering thoughts when I can’t sleep.  Then write them as articles, submit them to appropriate niche sites and publishers – on or off line–and…
Voila!  Instant successful author, writer, millionaire!
(Was I really awake? Maybe it was all a dream?)

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