2. Student assessment and testing
3. Testing methods
4. Construction of multiple-choice items
4.1. Using multiple-choice to test vocabulary
4.2. Using multiple-choice to test grammar
4.3. Using multiple-choice to test reading comprehension
4.4. Using multiple-choice to test listening comprehension
The teaching profession is a very versatile and interesting occupation. It does not only include teaching and preparing lessons but also measuring students' performances and learning success. Therefore, preparing tests and finding ways how to evaluate students' performances is an important part in teaching. Usually, the teacher has to prepare an exam or test him/herself. There are a lot of types of exercises from which a teacher can choose and many ways to create an exam or test.
In this paper, I will, first of all, try to give a short introduction to the theoretical basis of testing and then a brief overview of the different types of exercises.
Since it seems to me that multiple-choice tests are not very popular among German English teachers (although they are quite common as a form of testing in English-speaking countries), this paper is mainly about the construction and the use of multiple-choice tests as a form of testing. It focuses especially on the role of multiple-choice tests at teaching English as a foreign language (from now on EFL) in schools.
I will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of multiple-choice tests when used in the context of teaching EFL and whether they are a recommendable form of testing students' language abilities.
2. Student assessment and testing
Exercises play an important role in teaching. They are the means by which a teacher can conduct learning processes by focusing on certain language elements such as grammatical structures, vocabulary, etc. through giving a suitable exercise. This function as a "motor of the learning process" is not the only one. The other one is the control function which indicates the success of the students' learning process.
Reasons for an assessment by the teacher (extrinsic assessment) are:
1. to document the learner's success and his position within a group of learners. This is what is important for parents, potential employers and even the learner himself ("where do I stand?"). Since it comes naturally that a group of learners evolves a feeling for who is good at what, it is not unnatural to document this fact by a teacher.
2. to motivate the learner. Regular assessment can lead to positive learning experiences by creating a sense of accomplishment for the student. A good test or exam can also show the teacher's spirit of fair play and his/her consistency and again provide a good classroom atmosphere.
3. to provide feedback – for both teacher and learner. Testing makes the learner aware of his/her weaknesses and the teacher's objectives . It can show the learner that changing a learning strategy might be necessary or indicate that the teacher might have to change his/her teaching or testing methods when a test doesn't return the expected results.
The disadvantages that might occur with regular extrinsic assessment are on the one hand an overestimation of the learner's results instead of acknowledging the learning process, on the other hand this kind of testing does not focus on subjective learning achievements. Say, if a student with problems in spelling makes 40 mistakes in a dictation test instead of the usual 60, he/she will still get a F because objectively the test was still unsatisfactory although there was an improvement of 20 mistakes less.
Although there are discussions about other forms of testing going on, e.g. self-assessment by the learners themselves, testing learner's performances and skills is still mostly done by teachers.
Therefore, the next chapter will give an overview which testing methods a teacher has as options when preparing exams and tests.
3. Testing methods
Before I start to look at the different testing methods, I would like to mention two criteria which a good test should meet: reliability and validity.
The reliability of a test is the degree of precision with which it evaluates the skill or ability of a learner. One method to test the reliability of a test is to retest, i.e. to give the test again. If the learner gets the same result and ranks at about the same position within the learner group, the test is reliable. Does a test not deliver a reliable result, the reliability can be improved by lengthening, for example. Even if a test meets the criteria of reliability, it does not necessarily measure what it is supposed to measure.
This is what validity measures: the extent to which a test gives us the information we want. There are different methods to test whether a test is valid or not but for our purpose it is simply common sense that is needed. So when constructing a test, the teacher should simply bear in mind: is this really going to test what I want to know ?
The next step in order to find appropriate testing methods is to analyse them according to their learning target. There are three different targets (which are basically the main skills one needs to learn) in a language:
1. language subsystems, i.e. phonology, vocabulary, grammar and spelling.
2. communicative skills, i.e. speaking, listening and reading comprehension, writing.
3. cultural competence, i.e. to know facts about a country, its history, traditions and prevailing attitudes.
The teacher should not weigh the importance of these three skills identically but look at the curriculum and especially the needs of the learner group and then decide which testing method and which frequency of testing is the best to meet the requirements of the curriculum as well as those of the learner group.
Once the teacher has chosen which skill to test, he/she needs to find an appropriate form to test these skills. Since there are a lot of testing methods, I will to divide them into groups(see. Fig. 1):
The first distinction can be made between long answer and short answer test questions:
1. Long answer questions are simply essay questions. They test the learner's ability to solve and restructure complex assignments. In the context of teaching EFL it tests vocabulary, grammar, as well as cultural competence, the ability to memorize and the ability to write a coherent text. The advantage for the teacher is that the preparation does not take too much time but the correction is very time-consuming, difficult and it is hard to judge . Another problem is the possibility for the learner to misinterpret the question asked and get the whole exercise wrong.
2. Short answer questions on the other hand are easier to correct and they concentrate more on details or specific properties, i.e. a certain fact, concept or principle is easy to conceive. This type of questions can again be divided into two more groups: open and closed answers.
a) Open answer question are direct questions or an incomplete statement. The learner has to remember the right facts and phrase the answer him/herself. When correcting this type of answers the teacher has to take care not to look for certain words or phrases he/she expects since the possible answers are manifold as well as the problem of misinterpretation by the learner (although that risk is not as high as with essay questions).
3. b) Closed answer questions already provide answer alternatives and the learner only has to choose the right one. They are very easy to correct but are not suitable to test complex cognitive processes and their preparation can be very time-consuming and difficult. It gets easier if one does it more often. There are three types of closed answer questions: multiple-choice questions, true/false questions and matching exercises.
- Matching exercises require the learner to match the elements of an exercise, e.g. problem-solution, question -answer, the right way. An exercise for literature could look like this:
Which writer wrote what?
1. Pride and Prejudice a) Shakespeare
2. Ulysses b) G.B. Shaw
3. Macbeth c) Henry James
4. Moon Palace d) Jane Austen
5. The Portrait of a lady e) James Joyce
- True/false questions are pretty straight forward. The learner hast to decide whether a
given statement is true or false:
Great Britain is a republic. ⇑ true ⇑ false.
- Multiple-choice questions consist of a stem which contains either a question or problem.
The answer is given and the learner has to decide between (usually) four possible
answers. I won't give an example here since the rest of this paper will deal very detailed
with this type of testing method.
 Konrad Macht, "Aufgaben als Bewertungsinstrumente;"Englisch lernen und lehren, ed. Johannes-P- Timm (Berlin: Cornelsen, 2005) 366.
 Harold S. Madsen, Techniques in Testing (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983) 4.
 Konrad Macht, "Aufgaben als Bewertungsinstrumente;"Englisch lernen und lehren, ed. Johannes-P- Timm (Berlin: Cornelsen, 2005) 367.
 There are a few more criteria but since the extent of this paper is limited, I will only mention the two most important.
 Lienert/ Raatz, Testaufbau und Testanalyse – 5. völlig neubearb. und erw. Auflage. (Weinheim: Psychologie Verlags Union, 1994) 9-11.
 Ibid. 368.
 actually there are again lot more methods, e.g. rather new or unconventional methods such as project work, cloze tests etc. but this paper can't get into all of these things due to its limited extent.
 There are also semi-open exercises such as cloze tests but since they are not subject to this paper I won't go into detail here.