Testing Higher-Order Cognition: MCQs Versus MEQs

The popular perception of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) is that they can only test recall. They are also more often than not used for this purpose. For more “serious” testing—that is, for testing analytical ability and the ability to apply learned material—educators often look to the modified essay question (MEQ). This seems to be true across all testing scenarios from academia to business environments.

Managers, whether in HR or in Training, need to know employees at various levels. The process of getting to know employees happens in diverse ways: A recruitment manager finds out about potential candidates through interviews and written tests. A team leader finds out about team members through one-on-one interactions, word of mouth, qualitative assessments of past performance.

By “knowledge checks,” I’m referring to the short evaluations that punctuate a learning package. They’re also called recall screens, recall exercises, quizzes, or something else. Here’s a mix of ideas, random thoughts, and tips about knowledge checks.

“Knowledge checks are boring and useless...”?

I’ve seen people dismiss recall quizzes for various reasons:

This three-part whitepaper explores some possibilities and ideas in creating multiple choice questions (MCQs). In Part III, we look at alternatives to the basic MCQ.

Standardised tests, such as the SAT and GRE, are often criticised for not doing a good job at measuring what they are supposed to. Critics question the accuracy of the evaluations themselves, and also what the tests are supposed to achieve (namely, predicting academic performance in college or graduate school).

The issues are broad-ranging:

An earlier post looked at a range of ways in which post-quiz remedial feedback can be constructive. What about pre-course assessments, or pre-assessments? Apart from setting the tone and context for a course, a pre-assessment is useful for instructor and learner alike; in fact, it can work towards improving learner motivation too.

What is the importance of feedback after a quiz or test? Here’s a useful analogy: What quizzes are to the material, feedback is to the quiz.

Quizzes complete the loop. In that sense, saying just “Correct” or “Not correct” reduces the value of the quiz—just as course would be less useful if quizzes weren’t included.