When In Doubt Choose “C”


Two weeks ago I eliminated all multiple choice assessments. Mind you, this was a double-edged sword. Both the test prep and the grading for a written assessment puts an enormously time-consuming strain on my already bulging-at-the-seams schedule. Still, the more the students protested, the more confident I was in my decision.

Students have been taught how to take multiple-choice tests; they can work backwards from the answer choices, the quickest among them can “guess” the right answers, and the least ethical always seem to “find” the right answers. Students and well-intended test-teaching “gurus” often tell me that, when in doubt, choose answer “C.” Of course, in written assessments, there are no answers from which to choose, and no letter “Cs” to bubble in.

Rather, the answers must come from within the students themselves.

One student whom I usually see brazenly copying someone else’s homework at the beginning of each class period told me how he spent three hours studying for the new written exam, thinking his effort alone could convince me to bring back the beloved multiple choice. Rather, it strengthened my resolve.

I estimate it will take me eight hours to grade all 120 written exams, whereas a multiple choice exam grades itself and makes for happier students (and often parents). The path I have chosen is the path of fools, I know. After all, most students don’t care about chemistry. They care about the grade.

But the thing is, I care about chemistry. And not in the way you may think. Yes, it’s both scientifically and spiritually satisfying to realize that you, I, and all the stars are made up of the same handful of elements — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and a preponderance of metals — which differ only in the number of positively charged protons housed —> Read More