The problem with online multiple choice questions

Periodically, Facebook is suddenly flooded with multiple choice tests from Buzzfeed or Gawker or even a scientific outfit, all of them promising to tell which Disney princess you’d be; or if you’re an introvert or an extrovert; or if you have a specific regional accent; or if you should be reading War and Peace instead of Harry Potter.  I find all of these tests, whether silly or serious, useless.  They do not allow for any nuance or thinking outside of the box.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has problems with multiple choice tests that don’t reflect actual reality or, at the very least, my reality.  I’m just grateful that I’m not at a stage in life where stupid multiple choice tests affect my employment.  I also have one more reason to support my strong belief that I never want to go back to school — any school — again.  I’m a happy autodidact who doesn’t need to struggle with poorly drafted, ambiguous, stupidly conceived tests.

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  • Matt_SE

    I’ve also always had a problem with this.
    How can you be accurately scored if you’re smarter than the person who designed the test?
    Not to mention poorly-worded or ambiguous questions.

  • Robert Arvanitis

    Two related issues here.
    FIRST – educators need tests, to understand the effectiveness of teaching in passing on required knowledge.  A test can only ever be just a statistical sample. So test design is a critical function of pedagogy.  A proper test minimizes both types of error: a learned student fails; an ignorant student passes.
    SECOND – predictive analytics works because  a few good questions identify categories.  This is the basis of “20 questions.”  Each questions cuts the potential field in half or more even smaller. (half to the 20th is less than one in a million…)
    So the use of “predictive” quizzes in pop culture has a sound basis, even when the specific application (who is my ideal mate?) is ludicrous.
    PS:  Excellent point by Matt on the limitations of the tester. Some questions are amenable to grinding, so that a slower wit can eventually catch up to a faster.  But there are qualitative leaps the lesser intellect cannot make, which means the lesser can never truly test the greater.

  • Indigo Red

    Oh, I don’t know. They seem pretty accurate to me, at least foe a stupid multiple choice quiz that’s easily manipulated. So far I’m Dopey, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Data, Capt Picard, Frodo, and Sheldon Cooper with a Mid-Western accent and should be living in Paris. I chose each result in the first few questions. By choosing light saber over blaster made me Kenobi whereas the blaster would have made me Han Solo. Like Robert says above, it’s predictive.

  • JKB

    Seth Godin included the following in his manifesto on education, ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’.  It isn’t just the online multiple-choice tests that are the problem, but rather multiple-choice tests, the “test of lower order thinking for the lower orders”.
    2014 is the centennial of the multiple-choice test’s use.
    In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less 
    than a hundred years old. 
    There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots. 
    In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the 
    lower orders.” 
    A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned. The industrialists and the mass educators revolted and he was fired. 
    The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is based (almost without change) on Kelly’s lower- order thinking test. Still. 
    The reason is simple. Not because it works. No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward.

  • Ymarsakar

    Socrates’ teaching method was much better. But that requires actual competence.

  • Earl

    On this same topic, have you gotten the Republican National Committee’s multiple-choice questionnaire and fund-raising letter?
    I started filling out the questionnaire, figuring I’d tell them what I thought and then write “GROW A PAIR AND FIGHT – THEN ASK FOR MONEY!” on the fund-raising portion.  Guess what?
    You CAN’T really tell them what you think on the questionnaire…it’s classic “push-polling”, and by my reading, an attempt to use what you send in to tar the Tea Party.   Because the FIRST question is what you identify yourself as: Various forms of Republican, plus Independent, Libertarian and Tea Party Member. 
    Then Question #8 is where you are on embracing social issues, and #9 asks if you support, oppose, or have no opinion about: School prayer; Faith-based initiatives; banning flag burning, human cloning, abortions and/or federal funding for same, and same-sex marriages.   The Tea Party has NOTHING TO SAY about any of these issues.  But many people who are more traditional on social issues (like your correspondent) are supporters of the Tea Party, and I’m 100% certain that the GOP is planning to attack the various Tea Party organizations in this election cycle, using “data” from this “census”.
    I’m becoming more and more disillusioned with the folks who lead the GOP….what a bunch of weasels!

  • jj

    Still using the stickers I printed a couple of years ago for these republican surveys: “you’re welcome to my opinions; you get none of my dough.”    I haven’t bothered to explain precisely why; I assume there must be someone in the building who can figure it out and explain it to the rest of them.