Capturing life's complexities.. in multiple choice

The class test and the final exam are multiple choice questions (here’s an example). What else can they be, given the class size?

quarter of the class thought I graded too hard. A subset of those also thought their learning would be improved if I made the multiple choice options less ambiguous.


I really need to get better at managing student expectations here. I tell them from the get-go that my tests are not like their driver’s license ‘test’. I am not assessing them. I want them to practice thinking; I want them to examine things, to apply the critical thinking skills I am trying to get across.
One of the challenges for me is to shoehorn the real world – which is all shades of gray – into a multiple choice format. I actually like the discipline. Some students object to questions with many options (up to 8). Well, oftentimes life has many options. And sometimes it does not. Sometimes life does boil down to the dreaded (a) yes, (b) no, (c) not enough information to decide.
And real life is about making mistakes, and getting back up to try again. I think my tests reflect that; some of the students hate them for precisely that reason. They get two goes at the tests and they want to know which question they got wrong, so they can pick from the other answers. They have learned there should be an obvious and easy right answer. I wish reality were so. Out there, it is about more than chasing an A. I have to explain that better.
My favorite answer set of the semester: (a) probably, (b) probably not, (c) impossible to tell. Several of the students objected to that. Welcome to real-world decision making.

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