Short answer versus multiple choice examination questions for first year chemistry

Mullen, Kathleen and Schultz, Madeleine 2012, Short answer versus multiple choice examination questions for first year chemistry, International journal of innovation in science and mathematics education, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 1-18.

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Title Short answer versus multiple choice examination questions for first year chemistry
Author(s) Mullen, Kathleen
Schultz, MadeleineORCID iD for Schultz, Madeleine
Journal name International journal of innovation in science and mathematics education
Volume number 20
Issue number 3
Start page 1
End page 18
Total pages 18
Publisher Institute for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education
Place of publication Sydney, N.S.W.
Publication date 2012-12
ISSN 2200-4270
Summary Multiple choice (MC) examinations are frequently used for the summative assessment of large classes because of their ease of marking and their perceived objectivity. However, traditional MC formats usually lead to a surface approach to learning, and do not allow students to demonstrate the depth of their knowledge or understanding. For these reasons, we have trialled the incorporation of short answer (SA) questions into the final examination of two first year chemistry units, alongside MC questions. Students' overall marks were expected to improve, because they were able to obtain partial marks for the SA questions. Although large differences in some individual students' performance in the two sections of their examinations were observed, most students received a similar percentage mark for their MC as for their SA sections and the overall mean scores were unchanged. In-depth analysis of all responses to a specific question, which was used previously as a MC question and in a subsequent semester in SA format, indicates that the SA format can have weaknesses due to marking inconsistencies that are absent for MC questions. However, inclusion of SA questions improved student scores on the MC section in one examination, indicating that their inclusion may lead to different study habits and deeper learning. We conclude that questions asked in SA format must be carefully chosen in order to optimise the use of marking resources, both financial and human, and questions asked in MC format should be very carefully checked by people trained in writing MC questions. These results, in conjunction with an analysis of the different examination formats used in first year chemistry units, have shaped a recommendation on how to reliably and cost-effectively assess first year chemistry, while encouraging higher order learning outcomes.
Language eng
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
Copyright notice ©2012, The Authors
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