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Student and staff perceptions of the use of multiple choice testing in higher education assessments.

Penny, Kay I; Brodie, Jacqueline


Kay I Penny


Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are commonly used in higher education assessments and their use has increased alongside the availability of information and computer technology. Online MCQ testing is often considered an option to help deal with increasing numbers of students on distance learning and work-based learning.
By their nature, MCQs are not usually considered to encourage deep learning, however, students who do participate in online self-assessment often demonstrate improved academic performance compared to those who do not participate, and even students with low motivation levels often make use of online MCQ tools.
The aim of this paper is to present the perceptions of both the lecturing staff and students on the use of MCQs in higher education and to summarise the viewpoints and opinions of their usefulness to give both formative and summative feedback.

Study Design
All students and teaching staff at Edinburgh Napier University Business School were invited to take part in an online survey in May 2012. Participants were sent an email invitation to take part in the survey which mainly consisted of questions relating to experience and use of MCQs in higher education.

A total of 334 students and 28 staff members responded to the questionnaire survey. A total of 63.1% of undergraduates and 48.1% of postgraduates indicated that they had taken an MCQ test during their current degree programme. On the whole, most students did not have a favourable attitude towards the use of MCQ testing and postgraduate students had more negative opinions than undergraduate students and in particular, postgraduates believed that MCQ tests cannot be used to assess comprehension or understanding.
A thematic analysis was also carried out on two open-ended questions included in the survey and the responses were summarised into three main themes: pedagogical tool to support student learning; questionable suitability at higher education level; and question construction.

The survey findings indicate that, on the whole, both academic staff and students tend to have a rather negative attitude towards the use of MCQs in higher education. Although MCQs may have a place in assessing knowledge, they are less useful in assessing higher level skills such as interpretation, critical evaluation and writing skills. However, staff felt that MCQs can be very useful as a formative assessment tool and a means of providing positive feedback to students. Students agreed that MCQs are useful for self-evaluation and were satisfied with the use of MCQs as a means of revision. However, students felt that MCQs, when used on their own, did not provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their higher cognitive skills in an assessment setting.
When designing higher education courses, teaching staff should consider the use of well–designed MCQs as a tool for providing formative feedback to students, and the use of ICT in distance or work-based learning provides a means of access to a wide range of learners.

Conference Name EDEN 2014 Annual Conference
Start Date Jun 10, 2014
End Date Jun 13, 2014
Publication Date 2014
Deposit Date Apr 29, 2015
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 23
Book Title E-Learning at work and the workplace: EDEN 2014 Annual Conference
ISBN 978-963-89559-6-8
Keywords Multiple Choice questions; MCQ's; Higher Education; assessment; online learning; blended learning; self-assessment; online survey;
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