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Exam questions

T. V. Rajan, M.D., Ph.D. rajan at neuron.uchc.edu
Thu May 12 07:34:29 EST 1994

In article <2qqtmu$c3p at charm.magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu>
ppappas at magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu (Peter W Pappas) writes:

> In article <2qqgt9$5r2 at threed.uchc.edu>,
> T. V. Rajan, M.D., Ph.D. <rajan at neuron.uchc.edu> wrote:
> >  I teach parasitology to medical students and one of the most
> >difficult tasks is to set new multiple choice questions each year.  I
> >wonder whether all of us who read this board should establish a
> >compilation of exam questions that we can access and use.
> >
> >T. V. Rajan, M.D., Ph.D.
> >Professor and Chairman, Department of Pathology
> >University of Connecticut Health Center
> >Farmington, CT 06030.
> Having taught parasitology to pre-professional (both pre-med and pre-vet) and 
> advanced undergraduates for >20 years, I understand the problem of generating 
> new multiple choice questions each year (term).  There is, however, an easy 
> solution to this problem, namely DON'T ask multiple choice questions -- use 
> essay questions (or short answer questions).  This solution has a secondary 
> benefit; if the questions are written well, the students actually have to 
> "think" about the answer and may have to "integrate" facts.  Such tests are 
> more difficult and time-consuming to grade, but isn't that what we get paid for
> (just like making questions for our own examinations)?
> -- 
> Peter W. Pappas, Professor/Chairperson, Department of Zoology,
> The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH  43210  USA
> E-mail: pappas.3 at osu.edu; FAX (614)-292-2030,
> PHONE (614)-292-8088
   Having grown up in a country where there was no such thing as a
multiple choice question, leave alone an exam composed entirely of
such, a heartily agree that the multiple choice format is far from
ideal to assess the comprehension level of students. Unfortunately, at
our medical school, Parasitology is a part of a larger (Microbiology)
course and I do not have the option of establishing my own format. I am
not bothered by some students looking up questions, memorizing answers
and remembering enough information to do well in a sit-down exam.  If
they really remember the answers to all the questions, especially if
there is a large selection, I think we may be accomplishing a lot right

    Returning for a moment to the question of multiple choice vs. essay
exams, I am a member of a committee that has been looking into student
evaluations.  In the course of our deliberations, we ran across several
studies of the strengths and weakness of different exam formats.  From
the responses to my initial posting, it appears that many on this board
share my bias against multiple choice questions.  However, some of that
may be sheer prejuidice, based on rosy recollections of our own
training.  There are severe limitations in the essay format, not the
least of which is the lack of consistency of grading.  I am sure that, 
faced with two responses of similar content, I for one would give
higher grades to a student whose writing style was "better" - which may
mean no more than that the style resembles my own.  At our institution,
students have tended to be quite litiginous, and have contested grades
even in the so- called "objective" format.  I can only guess how
difficult it will be when we try to justify how we graded an essay! 

T. V. Rajan, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor and Chairman, Department of Pathology
University of Connecticut Health Center
Farmington, CT 06030.

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