Multiple choice exams aren’t stupidly easy you know

This story on the Telegraph website piqued my interest this weekend.

The ABRSM are planning on introducing multiple choice questions to the Grade 5 theory exam. The music world has, according to the Tory-graph responded with characteristic apoplexy. Calls of ‘dumbing down’ abound, ‘music teaching in crisis’. Someone sonewhere’s pounding their fist on the floor and wailing how it wasn’t like that in their day.

From the outset it’s worth pointing out that the Telegraph’s story is probably based on a blog post published by the Associated Board three weeks ago.

Inevitably, and quite rightly, ABRSM has responded with a statement, of which the salient point is quoted below:

When making these changes, we took into account best practice in assessment and question design.

As a result we’ve introduced Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) for one element of the exam.

MCQs are an accessible, reliable and proven way of assessing certain aspects of knowledge.

They are an existing and accepted element of school exams and the vast majority of candidates will be familiar with them.

I hated having to do Grade 5, in the same way that I’d have hated having to sit a theory test to determine whether I was allowed to sit a driving test.

Just recently I’ve had to complete a multiple choice exam in order to get my coaching credentials from the International Coach Federation.

As it turned out, the prospect of sitting down to a multiple choice exam seemed like the preferable option. Much better than having to sit down to write a handful of essays.

Multiple choice suited my preferred learning style. As much as I like to write, essay-writing isn’t necessarily the best way for me to demonstrate comprehension.

The reality of the test I took surprised me. It might have been my preferred option but it wasn’t easy.

I was nervous. The answers weren’t immediately obvious. I hesitated a lot. And I had to double- (and in some cases triple-) check before I clicked on the submit button. What motivated me was the desire to succeed, not the assumption that a multiple choice exam was somehow an easy option.

The challenge with multiple choice tests is making sure the questions are tough. And there’s an art to writing such exams. I’m in no doubt that the ABRSM will be only too aware of the reputation they need to maintain.

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