As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of multiple choice tests, especially the annual high stakes ELA test.  (Check out my last post, The New ELA Test, for some more discussion of this.)  That said, I spent the last week analyzing my students’ choices of A B C or D on the sample tests, and I think I’ve come up with a handy tool for helping students to choose more wisely.

It started when I went through to take the tests myself.  Very few questions had clear-cut correct answers.  Instead, I found that most questions had two or even three answers that had some validity.  To make my final choice, I had to go back to the passage and weigh each answer against its competition.  Which one had the MOST evidence to support it?  That was the one I chose, even if I had not initially favored it.  Later, I came across the answer key online and found that my answers were all “correct.” (Big sigh of relief!)

I hypothesized that many of my students were choosing the first answer that seemed to line up with what they had read, instead of recognizing the multiple possibilities and carefully reasoning through their choices. In fact, a number of my students admitted they had not fully read the passages.  Instead they read the questions first and looked for the answers in the passages.  Indeed, they chose the first answer for which they had found evidence.  These students answered the questions with less than 50% accuracy.

I created a template to give students a process for reasoning through their answers, as I had done.  For each question students had to explain their choice of answer using this format:

[Note: students should number the paragraphs of the reading selection to do this activity.]

7.  In this article, the author’s purpose is most likely to

A   analyze the secrets of business success

B   explain the power of advertising

C   tell about the life of an inventor

D   describe the history of an invention

We chose this answer, because



Evidence that our answer is the best one is in
paragraph # (s) __________

We also thought the answer might be _____ , but we did NOT choose this answer, because


I first asked my students read the passage with a partner and work together to complete the multiple choice questions using the template.  The next day I gave students another passage and had them work individually using the template.  The next day, I gave them their second multiple choice practice testwithout the template.  On the first​ practice test–before using the template above–the class had answered questions with an average of 59% accuracy.  Three days later, after practicing with this template the class average had increased to 68% accuracy, with a number of individual students making startling increases of 20-30%.  I shared the activity with a few other teachers at my school, who reported it to be helpful for their students.

In my scoring, incomplete questions were marked incorrect, as they are on the actual exam, so my students’ rate of accuracy on questions attempted could actually be higher than these numbers show. The next step is to identify the students who regularly run out of time and give them some strategies to help them finish faster. I will continue to encourage everyone else to continue reading as carefully as possible–the risk of skimming for answers is higher than most of them realize.

[image credits:  [www_standards_dfes_gov_uk]

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