Scantron v. Written Exam   Leave a comment

As a political science major, most of my tests are in written form- either in-class or take-home essays- as opposed to multiple choice scantron exams. Makes sense, allows you to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding and argue creatively for an opinion. Multiple choice exams are rare for polisci classes, especially upper division courses, but I have one up-coming in Poli104M. Now most people in the class seemed pleased that we have a multiple choice exam when it was announced. Written exams are more tiring on the joints and are generally unpleasant, we get tired of writing and writing. However, I believe the whooping and mild applause that greeted the multiple choice announcement were undeserved. I’ve grown quite suspicious of why a political science professor would consistently produce multiple choice midterms.
One reason is the professor’s profession. He’s a full-time lawyer and the class meets once a week for 170 minutes to accommodate him not having to come to campus all the time. Even though professors don’t usually grade every essay-style exam, it’s indisputable that scantrons are easier and quicker to grade. TA’s won’t have to ask the professor what type of credit should be given for an unconventional and clever, yet not totally correct answer, it’s cut and dry what the answer to each question is on a multiple choice exam. So the professor being too busy to participate in the grading of written exams is a factor in this being a multiple choice exam.
I would also hypothesize that the professor wants full control over the exam and it’s grading, refusing to leave any ambiguity up to the TA’s/graders. If you completely delegate grading midterms to the TA’s, you concede that some of their personal judgment will be utilized, and I think this professor wants to avoid that. He’s quite passionate about the class’s subject matter and because he cannot personally read each exam, the way he is exerting control over the exam is to make it multiple choice.
To a polisci major, multiple choice triggers intuitive relief, because the multiple choice exams we’ve had are non-sciencey and pretty easy.

Thomas Jefferson was the ___ president of the United States.
D)Barack Obama

That’s what “multiple choice” means to us. It’s the expectation we take into a multiple choice test. But in the case of an upper division class taught by a passionate teacher, it’s probably very important to be very careful with this particular multiple choice exam. I guess that means, expect rather specific and tricky questions, created specifically by the professor to address difficult concepts, because this professor mindfully elected to have complete dominion over each individual question. Multiple choice midterm for Poli104M is not a relief- it’s a caution, warning me to know my shit, and thoughtfully examine each crafty question. Do not go in with the expectation that reading the notes will help you immediately identify the correct answer. This will not be the case.


Posted February 4, 2010 by Wada in Uncategorized

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