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Express Yourself: The Benefits of Individual Assessment in Undergraduate Education
Unformatted Document Text:  3 Scholars have investigated the connection between gender and certain testing formats, concluding that multiple choice exams tend to favor males over females due to differences in cognitive style between the sexes (Bolger & Kellaghan, 1990; Ben-Shakhar & Sinai, 1991; Hassmén & Hunt, 1994), a tendency to change answers (Geiger, 1990), and/or greater omission rates among females (Ben-Shakhar & Sinai, 1991). Critics of the multiple choice format also argue that such tests primarily measure static knowledge (Tatsuoka, 1991) and fail to measure higher levels of cognitive skills such as interpretation and problem-solving (e.g. Maier & Casselman, 1970). Proponents of multiple choice exams claim that they – if diligently constructed – can measure very complex learning outcomes (Ebel, 1972; Gronlund, 1981). Studies have also found that students who take multiple-choice exams throughout a semester – as opposed to other forms of tests – perform better all around and exhibit greater retention rates of knowledge (Sax & Collet, 1968). Many scholars have lauded multiple choice exams for their objectivity and reliability/effectiveness (e.g. Collier & Mehrens, 1985). Finally, a newer branch of the literature focuses on the improvement of multiple choice exams by either including constructed response items (references?) or by including measures of students’ self-assessment, i.e. their perceived sureness about the correct answer (Hunt, 1982; Bokhorst, 1986). Essay and short answer exams have primarily been lauded for their ability to assess students’ critical thinking, interpretation, and problem-solving skills (references?). There also appears to be evidence that essay exams produce smaller gender differences than multiple choice exams (Murphy, 1982; Bolger & Kellaghan, 1990). Some studies suggest that short answer testing results in equal or greater retention of knowledge than multiple choice testing (Gay, 1980). At the same time, these types of free-response tests have been criticized for the difficulty associated with objective scoring on the part of the instructor. For instance, certain studies indicate that factors other than the content of essay answers may determine a student’s score, such as spelling and grammatical errors 2 (Scannell & Marshall, 1966; Marshall, 1967), the first name of the student (Harari & McDavid, 1973), and even the quality of handwriting (Chase, 1968; Marshall & Powers, 1969). This paper is not another study that seeks to dismiss the merit of multiple choice exams or any other format, but rather argues that the appropriate assessment method depends on the 2 Even when graders were asked to score on content alone

Authors: Leithner, Anika.
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Scholars have investigated the connection between gender and certain testing formats,
concluding that multiple choice exams tend to favor males over females due to differences in
cognitive style between the sexes (Bolger & Kellaghan, 1990; Ben-Shakhar & Sinai, 1991;
Hassmén & Hunt, 1994), a tendency to change answers (Geiger, 1990), and/or greater omission
rates among females (Ben-Shakhar & Sinai, 1991). Critics of the multiple choice format also
argue that such tests primarily measure static knowledge (Tatsuoka, 1991) and fail to measure
higher levels of cognitive skills such as interpretation and problem-solving (e.g. Maier &
Casselman, 1970).
Proponents of multiple choice exams claim that they – if diligently constructed – can
measure very complex learning outcomes (Ebel, 1972; Gronlund, 1981). Studies have also found
that students who take multiple-choice exams throughout a semester – as opposed to other forms
of tests – perform better all around and exhibit greater retention rates of knowledge (Sax &
Collet, 1968). Many scholars have lauded multiple choice exams for their objectivity and
reliability/effectiveness (e.g. Collier & Mehrens, 1985). Finally, a newer branch of the literature
focuses on the improvement of multiple choice exams by either including constructed response
items (references?) or by including measures of students’ self-assessment, i.e. their perceived
sureness about the correct answer (Hunt, 1982; Bokhorst, 1986).
Essay and short answer exams have primarily been lauded for their ability to assess
students’ critical thinking, interpretation, and problem-solving skills (references?). There also
appears to be evidence that essay exams produce smaller gender differences than multiple choice
exams (Murphy, 1982; Bolger & Kellaghan, 1990). Some studies suggest that short answer
testing results in equal or greater retention of knowledge than multiple choice testing (Gay,
1980). At the same time, these types of free-response tests have been criticized for the difficulty
associated with objective scoring on the part of the instructor. For instance, certain studies
indicate that factors other than the content of essay answers may determine a student’s score,
such as spelling and grammatical errors
2
(Scannell & Marshall, 1966; Marshall, 1967), the first
name of the student (Harari & McDavid, 1973), and even the quality of handwriting (Chase,
1968; Marshall & Powers, 1969).
This paper is not another study that seeks to dismiss the merit of multiple choice exams
or any other format, but rather argues that the appropriate assessment method depends on the
2
Even when graders were asked to score on content alone


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