Stephen Huggett: Multiple choice exams in undergraduate mathematics

S. Huggett, Multiple choice exams in undergraduate mathematics, The De Morgan Journal, 2 no. 1 (2012), 127-132.

From the Introduction:

In addition to a rigorous practical test called the general flying test, candidates for a private pilot’s licence have to pass written exams in subjects including meteorology, navigation, aircraft, and communications. These written exams are multiple choice, which seems appropriate. The trainee pilots are acquiring skills supported by background knowledge in breadth not depth, and this can be tested by asking them to choose the right option from a limited list under a time constraint. It is not necessary, of course, for pilots to understand the underlying theoretical concepts.

In contrast, students of mathematics are certainly expected to understand underlying theoretical concepts. To a certain extent, this understanding can also be tested using multiple choice exams. Clearly, mathematicians need skills too, of which one of the most important is the ability to perform calculations accurately. This can also be tested using multiple choice exams.

Given that no one method of assessment is good for all of the understanding and skills expected of a student, one should use a variety of different assessment methods in a degree programme, including things such as vivas, projects, and conventional written exams. There is no claim here that multiple choice exams can do everything!

Read the rest of the paper.