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Assessing with multiple choices instead of multiple-choice

In the maker space where I previously worked, we required students to get 100% on tool safety tests before they were allowed to use the tools. My colleague had created the tests before I arrived on the scene, but I volunteered when we received a new CNC machine. I put links in Google Classroom to sites that showed how the tool should be used and created a simple multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms. We rarely used multiple-choice assessments, but we had agreed that it was the only way to streamline the process for hundreds of students in grades 4-12 to utilize the wide array of tools in this space.

Students could not use a tool if they did not receive a 100% on its safety quiz. Students who earned less had to submit a paper that explained what questions they missed and why. Turning in this corrections paper gave them another chance on the quiz. We didn’t worry about cheating because we wanted the students to look at the source materials for answers. But many of the students preferred to guess rather than read anything or watch a video, and they inevitably got at least one answer incorrect.

Except for this time. I grew suspicious when several students very quickly told me that they had received 100’s. When I looked up the report for the form, I saw that I had forgotten to toggle the button in the settings that would allow them to take the quiz only once. I had also forgotten to turn off the “show answers” function when they turned in their forms and neglected to shuffle the questions each time. So, the students had gotten 30% or 40%, looked at the answers, tried again, gotten a little bit higher, tried again, and kept going at lightning speed until they had memorized the order of the answers.

My mistakes on that particular quiz reinforced my belief that multiple-choice tests rarely give a true picture of someone’s knowledge. If bored and given the opportunity, many students prefer to spend their efforts finding ways to “game the system” instead of working within it. It’s hard to blame them, especially in high-stakes situations.

Assessing with multiple choices instead of multiple-choice

Now that there are more teachers than ever using digital tools to create lessons and assessments, the lure of multiple-choice tests that can easily be created with a few keyboard strokes or a scanned PDF may be very tempting.

There are some other ways to assess students, however, that can discourage cheating, give teachers a much better idea of what their students know, and galvanize authentic engagement. Many of these alternatives are easy to use and require no more preparation than a multiple-choice test.

Instead of assigning a test with multiple choices, we can give our students multiple choices of assessment.

Video assessments

Tools such as Flipgrid. Seesaw, VoiceThread, and Screencastify make it simple for students to record themselves demonstrating their learning and turn it in for the teacher to assess. To add an element of competition and fun, teachers can even use video scavenger hunts like Goosechase.

If there are students who don’t have permission to be on screen (or don’t like it), you can give them the option of just recording their voice or doing a different type of assessment. Recordings where students explain their learning are great formative assessments when the teacher has made the expectations clear and given students a specific skill on which to focus.

Music lyrics

Analyzing themes, characters, and historical events can be done using music lyrics. You can begin with a “mentor text” (lyrics of a popular song) and then ask students to rewrite the lyrics from the perspective of someone you are studying. Once they have practiced this, they can then choose their own songs to rewrite. To do this successfully, students will need to understand point of view, synonyms, the rhythm of poetry, and the topic of study.

Hexagonal learning

This has been the single most effective assessment I have ever used in my classroom. Students are provided with hexagons that include a word, phrase, or even a number on each one. Then they arrange them so that the ones that have something in common share a side.

When students have placed all of the hexagons, they must then explain their reasoning. The rich conversations that come from this are mind-blowing. You may learn more about your students and the topic you are teaching than you ever anticipated.

Here is a summary of how this assessment works, along with a link to generate your own hexagons. If you want to keep it digital, students can use this tool and take a screenshot when finished or export as a sheet to turn in.

Read more: What every teacher should know about the hexagonal approach to learning

Visible thinking

Harvard’s Project Zero has a set of Visible Thinking Routines that are perfect for determining how much understanding students have developed about different topics. You can find wonderful examples on this website created by Alice Vigors. I have used routines like CSI and 3-2-1 Bridge with students to discover what misconceptions and new understandings they may have developed during a lesson.

I would recommend using and practicing these routines to deepen their knowledge during lessons. Once they’ve developed several different habits of thinking from this toolkit, they can then choose their favorite to show you what they have learned.


How about planning a Zoom or other online meeting with your class where students debate? This may seem like a recipe for disaster, but a well-planned event where spectators are muted and keeping track of good points on scorecards could be very engaging and alleviate the boredom that might be the result of well-meaning slide show presentations.

The podcast Smash Boom Best is a made-for-kids program that demonstrates how debates can be done in an engaging way while still providing information. Accompanied by lesson plans and scorecards, this type of assessment is an excellent choice for competitive students who love to argue!

Read more: Making spider web discussions work in asynchronous online classes

What’s in it for teachers?

All of the above assessment ideas require students to synthesize their learning, one of the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In addition, as open-ended assignments, the opportunities for cheating are practically nonexistent. Another pro is that they are all fairly easy assessments to create, as long as you’ve modeled their application during class and developed a rubric. (Here is a link to information about making simple, single-point rubrics.)

Read more: 6 Digital tools that help teachers create effective rubrics

“Wait a second,” you might say, “I may save time in the beginning, but these are going to take a long time to grade!” My response to this would be that you will find this time much more productive than trying to design “cheat-proof” tests, searching for cheaters, reteaching to students who didn’t care enough about the test to study or do their best, and wasting time in class on reviews that aren’t needed.

Offering choices and giving students multiple ways to be creative can give us much more important information about what they have learned, and give students more autonomy.

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