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November 29, 2010


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Most law professors give one exam. It is based on material that is imprecise and very facts sensitive. In fact that is why there are legal disputes -- people disagree. Giving a machine graded multiple choice exam is bad (and lazy) enough but trying to recycle is over the top.


I agree with Mccaco and Bridget: write new exams every term and don't give out multiple choice exams. That way you both take into account the unique experience of that semester's students, make it almost impossible for them to cheat (at least as to specific fact scenarios of the test), and provide students with the opportunity to expostulate rather than try to find their responses in canned (and sometimes poorly drafted) answers.

As for the professor in the video, using test bank questions inevitably will lead some to cheat. The students who did it were merely opportunistic,which was not legitimate but certainly foreseeable. By doing statistical analyses there's no way he'll be certain which of them cheated. If I were any student's attorney I would definitely advise not to say anything incriminating. Now if a student already incriminated her- or himself by boasting to other students then to remain silent is further risk-taking behavior.

Bruce Boyden

Everyone has their own preferences, but to claim that multiple choice exams are objectively wrong is, well, objectively wrong.


While in the abstract I agree with views expressed in the original post and some of the comments, I think that they fail to appreciate the realities of teaching large undergraduate survey courses.

In particular, undergraduate classes aren't like law school classes, where a professor can get by giving only one exam per semester. Undergrads expect (and oftentimes demand) to take 3-4 tests per term. In classes with 600+ students (like those apparently taught by Professor Quinn), grading would be an almost impossible task if each of those exams were entirely non-multiple choice (even with T.A. grading support). Indeed, undergraduates are not willing to wait 4-6 weeks to receive their grades from a single test.

I also disagree that reusing test questions over the course of multiple semesters is inherently wrong. Drafting good multiple choice questions is a much tougher task than one might think. Not only can it be difficult to gauge how challenging particular questions will prove to be for your class, but you will also inevitably miss some relevant ambiguity or interpretation of various questions the first time around. As a result, I've found that reusing and tweaking certain multiple choice questions ultimately provides for a better assessment than creating all new questions each semester. That having been said, I do believe that the reuse of test questions imposes an obligation on the professor to make sure that no copies of the exam leave his/her control, in order to prevent some students from obtaining an advantage. But that is easily accomplished with proper controls.

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