Exploring Multiple Choice Questions and Best Practices for Using Them

Just the thought of multiple choice questions can transport most of us back to our middle and high school days. Most school exams, including the dreaded standardized tests, featured a slew of multiple choice questions.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 10.39.08 AMMany of us felt the overwhelming temptation to simply fill out these bubbles at random, but the desire to get into the college of our dreams was probably enough to divert that whim.

So what happens when you’re asked to participate in multiple choice assessments as an adult?

Assessments are imperative when it comes to training employees, and it’s easier to deliver multiple choice questions than many other question styles.

You can easily incorporate a multiple choice assessment into your employee e-Learning, and then have automated tracking and reporting that lets you know how employees are doing. Unfortunately, not all multiple choice questions are created equal, and not all are capable of providing the necessary level of training assessment.

Pitfalls of Multiple Choice Questions

Before you can begin creating multiple choice questions to assess the knowledge and understanding of your employees, it’s first important to understand why these types of questions have earned a bad reputation in the training and education worlds.

Terry Heick, an educator, wrote a piece that was published in the Washington Post citing reasons he feels multiple-choice assessments can be problematic.

Heick said the following:

“The multiple-choice problem is becoming a bit of an issue.

While it has been derided by educators for decades as incapable of truly measuring understanding, and while performance on such exams can be noticeably improved simply by learning a few tricks, the multiple choice question may have a larger, less obvious flaw that disrupts the tone of learning itself. This is a tone that is becoming increasingly important in the 21st century as access to information increases, as the updating of information happens more naturally, and as blended and mobile learning environments become more common.”

He went on to lay out three reasons multiple choice question assessments have become increasingly problematic. He cites tone, saying “learning depends on a rather eccentric mix of procedural and declarative knowledge- on the process as much as the end product.”

He then moves on to the issue of uncertainty, saying there’s nothing wrong with being uncertain. He says the more someone learns, the more uncertain they become. He lays out the issue that learning isn’t a neat, clean process, but instead is messy and full of uncertainty.

Finally, Heick says that multiple choice questions automatically give the learner the illusion that there is a clear-cut definition of right and wrong while information is inherently fluid.

Think about what Heick says in terms of training employees in any area from sales to healthcare. When handling situations that depend almost entirely on another person and there is no one set of things that are going to constantly occur because of the differences in individuals, do multiple choice questions work?

The answer is, it depends.

Creating Multiple Choice Questions to Promote Critical Thinking

Collage of human head, molecules and various abstract elements on the subject of modern science, chemistry, physics, human and artificial minds

Despite the criticisms of multiple choice questions, what’s crucial isn’t that assessments follow one particular style and avoid another. What’s important is that questions promote a sense of critical thinking, which is a vital part of employee training.

Some of the advantages of multiple choice questions include the fact that it’s simply easier to look at and measure the results. If you’re asking employees to complete written format assessments, you’re going to be at least somewhat responsible for reviewing and scoring the answers, which is time-consuming and can require a pretty significant amount of resources.

There’s also less possibility of bias, and there’s no subjectivity when it comes to measuring multiple choice results.

Finally, multiple choice-style assessments are simply less time consuming for employees. You want training and development to take up the least amount of employee time, while providing maximum results. Long-form assessment styles aren’t conducive to these goals.

The key to using multiple choice questions within your learning management system training is to work on creating items that are going to promote critical and higher level thinking, rather than hindering it.

Here are five tips that can help you design multiple choice questions that are going to give you an accurate picture of training effectiveness:

  • Include charts or data as part of the assessment. By asking employees to look at and analyze a set of data or a chart, it’s going to ensure they’re more immersed in training. This method is also going to promote a higher level of thinking when it comes to answering a question. There may only be one right answer in a set of multiple choice options, but employees are forced to really think when it comes to uncovering that answer. In addition to charts, other visual elements including videos and photos can make useful tools to delve deeper into the level of comprehension of employees.
  • Include real world scenarios. This is something that’s valuable throughout training. Make sure your questions incorporate real-life elements your employees face on the job.
  • Instead of traditional questions use a story as the question. Embed the actual question within a story. This requires employees to not only read and understand the story to understand the question, but it also requires that they analyze a particular situation. Rather than just choosing a right answer they’re looking at a unique situation and using critical thinking skills to determine the correct choice.
  • Create multi-level multiple choice questions, where respondents are not only asked to select the right answer but are also asked to go on to a second part of the question where they choose the reason.
  • Include several correct or plausible answers within a multiple choice questions, but ask employees to choose the one that’s the best. When there are multiple answers that could be correct, but only one that stands out above the others it’s going to promote a higher level of thinking than if there’s only one obviously correct answer and three that are blatantly incorrect.

Do you use multiple choice questions in your e-Learning assessments? How do you make sure they’re gauging the real comprehension of your employees?

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