Take Your Pick

If the two angles add to 180°, we say they “Supplement” each other.

A multiple answer question (MCQ) in a school text-book states:

“if supplement of an angle is thrice the angle what is the measure of the angle?”

a)      30o                          b) 45o                             c)  60o                              d)90o

The teacher knew the answer intuitively, but was not sure why. Teaching continued after giving the right choice. The teacher does not explain why b) is the right answer. When a student chooses the right answer, we are not certain if she has understood the concept. If the question is altered to state that the supplementary angle is 5 times, the students are left to answer by gut feeling or a guess, which may be wrong.

When we make a correct choice, we are happy even if we are right by chance and cannot explain why the choice is right. More the choices, higher are the chances of us going wrong.

In a small scale I conducted an experiment. In one test, the question paper had no MCQ. There were one-word answers and longer answers as well. The students who studied and understood the subject got good scores and others did not attempt many questions resulting in quite low scores. The gap between higher and lower scores was large. In another test the paper had only MCQs. It appears that even the students who could arrive at correct answer stopped working out the answers and guessed them like others who did not know the answers. Guesses of better students would be more reasoned compared with others. However, because they were tempted to guess and not to working out the answers, they did poorer with MCQs compared with the times when they derived the answers. The students who did not know the answers boldly guessed and got some of them right. They did better with MCQs. The gap between higher and lower scores reduced.

When we are given with choices, we stop working methodically to arrive at a solution, but work on ‘choosing’ the correct answer by guesses and process of elimination. Often it takes longer to choose one among several choices than solving it methodically. If we get used with MCQs, we sharpen our skills to choose right answers by identifying patterns and rejecting obviously wrong answers. If we develop this habit, when we have to give an answer without prompts to choose, we are lost.

In life, if we do not know what we want, but can only choose from what is offered, we lose our independence. Others influence our thinking by the kind of choices they offer. Till we see the menu card, we do not what we want to eat. Till the salesman spreads clothes on the table, we do not know if we wanted a new pair. We eat probably what we should not and buy clothes that we don’t need.

An advice to school teachers: Text books have MCQs. Make the students to work out the correct answers and justify their choices. Being wrong creates a greater opportunity to learn.



About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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6 Responses to Take Your Pick

  1. Nagesh Ramiah says:

    You hit the nail on the head PG. I would add here that MCQs make copying easy. You don’t have to look for long answers, your neighbour has to just show you a, b, c, or d. And in the exam if you have a neighbour who is good at studies, bingo you have the answers.

    So where is the solution? Can we not look at some radical ways of evaluation? Do we really need the present scheme of things? What if the teacher alone graded the students based on participation in the class? I know the answers are not easy to come by.


  2. pgbhat says:

    Nagesh, to evaluate hundreds of papers with wordy answers is difficult and MCQs help. As a first step we can make one word (or phrase) answers instead of MCQs. This will make some students think and answer. It is equally easy to correct manually though not easy for automated corrections. Evaluating based on participation is a little difficult because some introvert good students may miss out and some extroverts may hog the time and attention of the teacher. Wherever possible, we can look at the application of concepts by students rather than repeating answers from text books.
    You know by your own experience that effective teaching and evaluation are more challenging than ‘covering the syllabus’ and conducting the tests.


  3. VASANTHI says:

    Oh! really amazing work .


  4. Udaya Kumar P L says:

    Negative scoring for wrong answers makes one think more carefully doesn’t it?

    If questions are framed to test for application of knowledge in real world like situations then again thinking will be encouraged.


  5. Udaya Kumar P L says:

    As an example if the same question were framed as – two boys standing with their backs to each other and looking up at the night sky call out aloud at what elevations in degrees they see a particular star . The first one to call out says a number thrice that the other one does. What did the first boy call out?


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