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Succeeding on Multiple-Choice Exams: A new SKILLS21 workshop for students

Student filling out multiple choice exam

Many are probably familiar with the idiom about the certain inevitability of death and taxes.  For undergraduates, particularly in the earlier stages of their academic journey, there is another absolute: multiple-choice exams. To mitigate this inevitability, and to build students’ capacity for succeeding on these types of exams, McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) is now offering a new, 90-minute workshop: Strategies for Succeeding at Multiple Choice Exams.

The multiple-choice question (MCQ) is an effective and versatile assessment strategy. For example, an exam composed of MCQs can align with any level of cognitive complexity covered under Bloom’s Taxonomy (excluding creating); but this is, in part, what makes such exams difficult for test-takers. Other challenges can include discerning the ‘best answer’ while simultaneously rising to the task of higher-order learning or choosing between more than five alternatives. But, perhaps the most general and pressing challenge from the student’s perspective is that not all MCQs are created equal – for students, there will be good questions and there will be bad poorly constructed and ineffective questions. Given this reality, how can we provide support for students so that they’re capable of demonstrating their learning through MCQs without being confused?

 Strategies for Succeeding at Multiple Choice Exams aims to support students’ ability to approach MCQs by strategically preparing for exams, applying practical and effective techniques in answering questions by breaking them down, and understanding how to use exam results to enhance overall learning. There are two essential components to this workshop that make it a novel approach to McGill’s culture around teaching and learning. First, the workshop draws from a staple TLS-offering for instructors on this same topic: Designing Effective Multiple-Choice Exams (MCQs). As a result, the message around MCQs is aligned for both students and instructors, which contributes to coherent messaging on this topic within the McGill teaching and learning context. Second, the main takeaway for students is a technique captured by the acronym READY, which stands for read, examine, alternative, delete, and yield. In brief, READY is a critical thinking process that allows test-takers to go step-by-step through a challenging question, one which helps the students who have studied engage in a way that can demystify the question’s potentially confusing aspects. Instructors have to use multiple-choice exams and students have to take them, so the workshop provides the strategies for students to navigate the MCQ and demonstrate what they know through their exams.

To conclude: although legal considerations inhibit any ability to avoid taxes, and practicing existentialists are still working on the inevitable reality of human finitude, the least we can do, as student learning and development professionals, is provide solid support to undergraduate students and their success in dealing with their inevitable reality: the multiple-choice exam.

 McGill instructors interested in recommending this workshop to their students can encourage them to get started by registering for SKILLS21.


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