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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Multiple choice and formative assessment

The following is by Ben Spencer (Virginia) and is sponsored by West Academic.

The forthcoming ABA standards require law schools to pay better attention to how they assess student learning. Such assessment can not only measure student achievement after the conclusion of a unit or course (summative assessment), but can also be used as a tool to enhance the learning of the material throughout the course (formative assessment). Formative assessment permits students to determine their own level of understanding at a point when they can improve before the final exam and permits the instructor to discover areas of student weakness at a time when further training can still occur.

There are several effective ways to engage in formative assessment but the one I'd like to focus on here is multiple-choice questions. Multiple-choice questions do not have to be that different from essay or short-answer questions from a substantive perspective, meaning they too can present students with a hypothetical fact pattern and ask for legal analysis to reach a decision or outcome with respect to a given issue. However, the multiple-choice format offers several advantages over the traditional essay format, if properly constructed.

A. Coverage. Multiple-choice questions can permit assessment on a wider range of topics than essay questions.

B. Objectivity, Consistency, Reliability. Multiple-choice questions ensure standardized grading standards for all students and more reliability of results.

C. Granularity/Calibration. Multiple-choice questions allow the examiner to isolate specific skills or doctrinal understandings and test for student learning on those points precisely. The focus that a multiple-choice question provides makes it clear to the instructor what the particular areas of strength and weakness are across the topical areas covered by the course.

D. The Multi-State Bar Exam. The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is something each law student will have to take before they can practice law in the United States. This exam consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. Thus, using multiple-choice questions as part of one’s assessment approach will give students some practice handling those types of questions.

These benefits notwithstanding, multiple-choice questions are difficult to draft in meaningful quantities, something that may deter professors from using them. That's why I have drafted 200 multiple-choice questions in my field (civil procedure) that are available for faculty to use with their students as part of West Academic’s CasebookPlus™, a new digitally-enhanced casebook experience that provides students with support beyond classroom teaching and materials by offering additional digital resources to help them succeed in law school. Question sets for seven additional other law school subjects are available as well from West Academic for fall 2015 classes as part of the new CasebookPlus offering. Regardless of whether you use questions already curated by myself or others, or you decide to try your hand at drafting your own, adding this method of formative assessment is certain to result in enhanced learning from your students and will improve your ability to be more responsive to their learning needs along the way.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 16, 2015 at 08:31 AM in Sponsored Announcements | Permalink


I agree with DF. And I appreciate the ability to give my students access to more multiple choice questions---they are always asking for more opportunities to practice MC questions.

Posted by: carissa | Apr 16, 2015 5:30:22 PM

I'm a huge fan of m/c questions and have always included them in my property and copyright courses at least as part of the final exam, and often as a mid-semester interim assessment. In addition to the advantages Ben lists in this post, m/c also generate better assessments by making sure that students who know the law and its nuances well but haven't yet mastered the tricks of essay writing will be rewarded for their knowledge on exams. It also rebuts the lazy myth often propounded in law school that there are no right answers to any questions. When students get out into practice, they'll soon realize that there are certain questions that have right and wrong answers (duration in copyright and title recording acts in property illustrate the point, to take just two examples), and multiple choice reflects that reality.

Posted by: DF | Apr 16, 2015 11:06:48 AM

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