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Thinking about the question a sixth grade teacher friend showed me the other day. She was frustrated, annoyed, sad because many kids had missed a question on a standardized test that she had reviewed with the kids before the test. After the results were in these kids all said, oh ya, I knew that. So why did they miss the question on the test?

The question was framed up as a description of a classroom science experiment. The question asked for the independent variable from the five choices.

That was a very sophisticated assessment question. It is a lot more than just knowing the “fact”. This was not a simple multiple choice question. Grade level reading? Specific vocabulary in context? Recognize the objective of the experiment as described? Identify the key elements in the description? Understand dependent / independent variable differences? Check appropriateness of answer to problem as they understand it? Eliminate choices? Refine problem understanding using likely choices? Do they have a mental models or framework for solving problems of various kinds? Can they apply these problem-solving techniques under pressure or in the testing environment?

I would be interested to know where the kids got hung up sorting through the information in the problem statement to figure out what was being asked and mapping that to the possible answers.

I worked on a Learning Literacies course for college kids. Some of what we address are things like this. Kids may know the facts but they get hung up on unpacking the questions. We didn’t go into test taking specifically although there are many commercial and free courses and guides for these. We do get into problem-solving.

Multiple choice question tests can be constructed to test a wide range of depth and breadth of understanding. They can be used to diagnose learning by including “wrong” answers that are possible or usual when some key information or processes are not well understood or applied. These can provide more information that just who got the one correct answer out of some random wrong answers.

Learning to learn (and demonstrate that) are more important that just knowing the fact answer to a question on a multiple choice test.

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