“Multiple Choice Thinking” may be messing with your head

“Multiple Choice Thinking”

The most common way students have had their learning assessed for the last 30+ years is by the multiple choice test. Teachers like the multiple choice test for a number of reasons. It’s easy to administer – they pass out a list of questions and a computer form. It provides cloak of objectivity -if the student colors in the correct circle, a point is given, if not, the point is missed.  It’s a lot easier than having a list of complex outcomes that you’re measuring in a stack of essays, and easier than trying to explain to a lot of different students why they got the grade they did. Multiple choice tests can be graded in mere minutes instead of hours too – in fact, now with computer and internet based tests, the teacher is not required to intervene at all in testing. The student takes the test, and the results can be directly transported to the students’ records.

This method of assessment has resulted in a lot of what educators call “incidental” learning. We learn a lot of behaviors from the way we’re being taught that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. What we learn from multiple choice testing has a significant effect on how confident we are in our knowledge, how we think and how we make decisions.

Conditions in a multiple choice test.

It’s important to reacquaint yourself with the conditions to understand the impact it has on your thinking and decision making. First, there are a very limited number of possible choices- almost always three to five choices. If more than one of the possibilities is correct you are alerted to that. Almost always there is a “trick” answer – something designed to look correct that isn’t correct. The correct answer is always present.

There is another very important thing about these tests: selecting the correct answer out of those present gets you a point, selecting the wrong one loses you a point. You may not delay the test because you need to learn more. Deciding that there isn’t any good option or that all the options are reasonable isn’t possible.

Points are important – how much people who judge you think you know about a subject depends entirely on how many points you get.

So, how can this play out in your day to day life or at your business? You’ve been taught some things that you’re not aware of, and that learning has had an effect on your behavior whether you realize it or not. Here are few ways that it can make life difficult for you:

1)      You may have more confidence than you should in some of your decisions. Having done well in all the tests you’ve taken – in courses that are supposed to apply to the real world, by choosing the best option among those that are readily available, you are occasionally blindsided by having the best choice turn out very badly.

2)      You may have difficulty making a decision when you have a set of options that are all reasonable. Think if you have a few different subcontractors to choose from, or if you are trying to choose a school for your child. There will be some decisions that are obviously suitable, and some that aren’t, but it may be very difficult to choose among the suitable choices because you are looking for THE right answer, or you are expecting one of those suitable choices to be a trick.

It’s easy to handle these habits when you are aware you have them, it can cause you a great deal of frustration if you are not aware that you have them. Knowing that this kind of testing may be affecting your thinking and decision making can help you make better and decisions and save you time and frustration.