Are Multiple-Choice Questions Suitable for a Final Examination in a Stem Course?

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Conference Proceeding

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Are Multiple-Choice Questions Suitable for a Final Examination in a STEMCourse?With decreasing budgets for teaching assistants, large class sizes, and increasedteaching loads, it is becoming ever more important to effectively utilize resourceswithout sacrificing best practices of assessment. One of the assessment tools that thesecond author uses in a Numerical Methods course at the University of________________ is a multiple-choice final examination. As part of a collaborativegrant study, the fourth author who was giving the same examination to his NumericalMethods course at the __________ University had reservations that a multiple-choicetest would be adequate to assess students’ comprehension of the course material.All authors agree that assessment is more than for assigning a grade – it is for“monitoring their learning, actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels ofunderstanding.” (How People Learn by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 1999). In theauthors’ collective teaching experience of 59 years, less than 1% of the students returnto see the graded final examination and utilize it as a learning mechanism. Therefore, inmost courses, the final examination only serves the purpose of grading and is not usedas a learning mechanism by an overwhelming majority of students.To evaluate the use of a multiple-choice final examination as a replacement for thesame examination in free-response format, we designed an experimental study that wasconducted over three semesters. The final examination has 24 questions based on 8topics in the course. The questions are based on Bloom’s taxonomy.Semester 1: We gave the final examination questions as free response questions.Each question was graded based on a rubric of a scale of 0-4.Semester 2: We gave the final examination as multiple-choice questions with partialcredit. Each question answered correctly garnered 4 points. If the wrong choice waschosen, it was graded according to the same rubric as Semester 1. Of course, themaximum score would not be more than 3 for an incorrectly answered question.Semester 3: We gave the final examination as multiple-choice questions only. Acorrect choice earned the student 4 points while an incorrect or unanswered choicefetched 0 points. No partial credit was given.A Spearman's rank test was used to compare student performance in the numericalmethods course up to the final exam with student performance on the final exam.Significant correlation was found withIn the semester in which the multiple-choice with partial credit final exam wasadministered, student rankings as determined by performance in the course aresignificantly correlated to rankings of the same students as determined by the finalexam, both with and without the partial credit component. Furthermore, beyond theaddition of extra points for partial correctness, the partial credit component of themultiple-choice exam does not affect student ranking.These results indicate that multiple-choice final exams are effective tools for measuringsuccessful achievement of student learning objectives, and are also efficient withrespect to use of instructor resources and time. The detailed analysis and discussion ofthe results will be available for the draft paper.

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition