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2012 December

The 3 Major Problems with Multiple Choice Tests

If you’ve ever taken a multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubbles test, then you know that you MUST use a #2 pencil to fill in your answers. If you’ve never taken such a test, congratulations: you probably live on one of those miniscule islands in the Caribbean that’s so small that if you accidentally have too much for dinner, the whole island sinks. You’ve never had to go through the mentally scarring experience of such a test. Plus, you probably have a nice tan.

My guess is that most of you have dealt with a multiple choice test, or MC test. Contrary to popular belief, MC test doesn’t stand for multiple choice test, but rather, Malicious Cruel test.

This acronym has nothing to do with the content of the test itself. You could be tested on the names of common household appliances, such as “toaster,” “sink,” and “plutonium centrifuge,” and still miss over half of the questions purely due to the format of the test.

The #2 Pencil

Let’s think about this for a second. You are handed a blank answer form. Then, you shade in certain bubbles on the answer form. How dumb does a scanning machine have to be to be unable to tell the difference between a blank form and a filled in form? Why is it that the machine only detects a #2 pencil?

Humans certainly can’t tell the difference between a #2 pencil and a #1.5 pencil. Who thought this was an important thing to incorporate into these machines?

Plus, when it comes down to it, nobody knows what #2 stands for. I’d guess that it probably indicates that these pencils were made for the 2nd best scanning machines. The best scanning machines could handle pencils, pens, and crayons, but we use the 2nd best machines, and thus, the #2.

Sensitive Machines

Even if you have a #2 pencil, that’s not always enough. If you can’t shade in the bubble itself to the specifications of a temperamental machine, then you will still get the wrong answer. This means you cannot mark your answers lightly, incompletely, with a scribble, with a bull’s-eye design, with imperfect uniformity, halfheartedly, unenthusiastically, or even apathetically. If you are not fully enthused when marking in your answers darkly, then you are certain to fail the test.

Erased Answers

The other problem with the bubbles is erased marks. Again, we can see that the machines are stupider than the humans*. On a written math test, if you wrote “x=4,” then erased the 4 so that you could only faintly make it out, and then wrote a much darker “5” in that same space, your teacher would assume that you meant “x=5.”

*I will probably be killed by a robot in 2040 for that statement.

For scantron machines, however, this simply blows their minds. If you present it with a very light, erased bubble, and a very dark bubble, the machine assumes that you think there were two correct answers. Thus, you get the question wrong.

Thankfully, the failure to recognize erased marks is only a recent development. Otherwise, well, just imagine the historical implications. “The Supreme Court ruled today, after carefully examining the constitution under a magnifying glass, that due to some obscure erased marks, citizens only have a right to ‘bare’ arms, that is, to wear tank tops or other sleeveless garments.”

With all of these problems, one would think that teens would have revolted against MC tests by now. Even with all of these issues, however, that line of thinking is incorrect: teens would never, ever do anything to get rid of MC tests.

Why? Because even though you have to bubble in your answers using more care than a brain surgeon, multiple-choice tests allow for guessing. On a history test, you may have no idea when Franklin Pierce was president. On a writing test, you might take a hilariously bad guess, such as “from 1414-1418.” But on a multiple-choice test, you automatically have a 1 in 4 (or 5) chance of getting the answer correct! Heck, you could mark “D” every time, and have a solid shot at getting a D!

So, even with all of their shortcomings, we should all be thankful for Malicious Cruel tests. I mean, at least our education system, which invented these tests, doesn’t have any actual influence over the future of our country, right?

As the impending doom of the so-called “fiscal cliff” approaches, you might be worried that our government is failing to do its duties. One possible solution would be to simply replace every official with a teacher, an idea explored in “If Teachers Ran the US Federal Government…“, a post published this time last year.