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Multiple-choice test items are not a panacea. They have advantages and limitations just as any
other type of test item. Teachers need to be aware of these characteristics in order to use
multiple-choice items effectively.
Versatility. Multiple-choice test items are appropriate for use in many different subject-matter
areas, and can be used to measure a great variety of educational objectives. They are adaptable to
various levels of learning outcomes, from simple recall of knowledge to more complex levels,
such as the student's ability to:

Analyze phenomena

Apply principles to new situations

Comprehend concepts and principles

Discriminate between fact and opinion

Interpret cause-and-effect relationships

Interpret charts and graphs

Judge the relevance of information

Make inferences from given data

Solve problems
The difficulty of multiple-choice items can be controlled by changing the alternatives, since the
more homogeneous the alternatives, the finer the distinction the students must make in order to
identify the correct answer. Multiple-choice items are amenable to item analysis, which enables
the teacher to improve the item by replacing distractors that are not functioning properly. In
addition, the distractors chosen by the student may be used to diagnose misconceptions of the
student or weaknesses in the teacher's instruction.
Validity. In general, it takes much longer to respond to an essay test question than it does to
respond to a multiple-choice test item, since the composing and recording of an essay answer is
such a slow process. A student is therefore able to answer many multiple-choice items in the
time it would take to answer a single essay question. This feature enables the teacher using
multiple-choice items to test a broader sample of course content in a given amount of testing
time. Consequently, the test scores will likely be more representative of the students' overall
achievement in the course.
Reliability. Well-written multiple-choice test items compare favorably with other test item types
on the issue of reliability. They are less susceptible to guessing than are true-false test items, and
therefore capable of producing more reliable scores. Their scoring is more clear-cut than short-
answer test item scoring because there are no misspelled or partial answers to deal with. Since
multiple-choice items are objectively scored, they are not affected by scorer inconsistencies as
are essay questions, and they are essentially immune to the influence of bluffing and writing
ability factors, both of which can lower the reliability of essay test scores.
Efficiency. Multiple-choice items are amenable to rapid scoring, which is often done by scoring
machines. This expedites the reporting of test results to the student so that any follow-up
clarification of instruction may be done before the course has proceeded much further. Essay
questions, on the other hand, must be graded manually, one at a time.
Versatility. Since the student selects a response from a list of alternatives rather than supplying
or constructing a response, multiple-choice test items are not adaptable to measuring certain
learning outcomes, such as the student's ability to:

Articulate explanations

Display thought processes

Furnish information

Organize personal thoughts

Perform a specific task

Produce original ideas

Provide examples
Such learning outcomes are better measured by short answer or essay questions, or by
performance tests.
Reliability. Although they are less susceptible to guessing than are true false-test items,
multiple-choice items are still affected to a certain extent. This guessing factor reduces the
reliability of multiple-choice item scores somewhat, but increasing the number of items on the
test offsets this reduction in reliability. The following table illustrates this principle.