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ERIC Number: ED539534
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 215
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-2671-4497-3
Optimizing Multiple-Choice Tests as Learning Events
Little, Jeri Lynn
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
Although generally used for assessment, tests can also serve as tools for learning--but different test formats may not be equally beneficial. Specifically, research has shown multiple-choice tests to be less effective than cued-recall tests in improving the later retention of the tested information (e.g., see meta-analysis by Hamaker, 1986), arguably because multiple-choice tests engage more shallow processing and less retrieval than do cued-recall tests. Taking a cued-recall test, however, may have a negative consequence: Later recall of related, but initially nontested information, can be impaired when that nontested information has a competitive relationship with the tested information (i.e., the tested and nontested questions have answers that might compete with one another during retrieval, resulting in the incorrect answers being suppressed in the process of trying to retrieve the correct answer; Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994). Multiple-choice tests may provide protection from this negative consequence for competitive related information when, for example, the answer to a related question serves as an incorrect alternative in the initial test. That is, the format of a multiple-choice question might lead learners to think explicitly about why the incorrect answers are wrong when trying to choose the correct answer and, thus, such related competitive information might be spontaneously retrieved and strengthened rather than being suppressed. Even when a multiple-choice test is presented before learning (e.g., as a pretest), that test may still be beneficial: The test-taker may deeply process the question and all the alternatives as a consequence of trying to answer the question and may then pay greater attention to both the tested and related information during subsequent study. In nine experiments (n = 469), we examined the effect of answering multiple-choice questions (with the information most likely to compete for retrieval of the correct answer appearing as incorrect alternatives) on the later retention of that tested information as well as the nontested related information (i.e., a nontested related question would have a correct answer that was an incorrect alternative on the earlier test). In the first set of experiments, we demonstrated that a multiple-choice-question format can be used to protect related information from the forgetting that might otherwise occur as a consequence of taking a cued-recall test. Furthermore, we provided evidence that this benefit occurred owing to the deep processing of competitive alternatives rather than simply arising from prior exposure of those alternatives. In the second set of experiments, we demonstrated that the retention of related information was facilitated even when compared to that resulting from a condition in which learners spent extended time studying (equivalent time-on-task control condition), when specific instructions were given to test-takers to think about why the incorrect alternatives were wrong. In the final set of experiments, we provided evidence that, when used as pretests before study, multiple-choice tests could effectively facilitate future learning, more so than studying facts containing the same information or answering cued-recall questions before study. In summary, when properly constructed, multiple-choice tests can engage deep processing; enhance--rather than impair--the recall of related information; and facilitate future study. Although long under-acknowledged as learning tools, multiple-choices tests may thus have certain pedagogical benefits over more highly regarded test formats, such as short-answer and cued-recall questions. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A