Diversity in assessment

Multiple choice questions (MCQs)

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) may or may not be administered by computer, though increasingly they are. The key benefit of using them is therefore the saving of academic time on marking, though they can be time consuming and expensive to set up as questions require thorough testing before being made available to students.

Questions can be re-used and banked, and candidates can use them in different times at different locations. Some universities conduct large-scale summative tests online, though this can be time-consuming to organise and requires appropriate spaces, facilities and particular attention to students with special requirements.

MCQs are often popular with students for exactly the reason they are rejected by staff - students can guess at the answers to difficult questions, and results are therefore subject to an element of luck! More seriously, perhaps, the medium itself does not always allow students to see why a particular response was wrong. No credit is given for understanding the underlying principles of a question - an answer is either right or wrong - critics therefore arguing that MCQs do not encourage deeper-level learning.

Used for formative assessment, however, or to ensure that students have a grasp of basic principles, MCQs can be useful. For more information on compiling such tests using ELE or QuestionMark Perception, the University's e-tool for MCQs, contact the Head of e-Learning, Matthew Newcombe.