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Quantitative Assessments in Graduate Education (Part III)

By Dr. Gary Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University

This is the third article in a three-part series about quantitative assessments for graduate students.

In my first article, I discussed how and why quantitative assessments are often dismissed by graduate programs as insufficiently challenging. In the second article, I described how law schools and state bar examiners create rigorous, challenging quantitative exam questions with the use of two key strategies. In this third and final article, I’ll demonstrate how these strategies could be used to create challenging test questions in a non-legal curriculum.

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Reframing Multiple-Choice Questions for Quantitative Assessments

Consider the question of the ocean’s color that we discussed in my first article. If we were to rewrite this multiple-choice question with the strategies discussed in mind, the question and the potential answer choices would look like this:

What color is the ocean?

A) Blue, because water molecules scatter blue light more than other colors in the visible spectrum.

B) Blue, because water is denser than air.

C) Clear, because if you scoop up ocean water in a glass, you will see that it is clear.

D) Clear, because water molecules create special optical illusions with colors.

E) None of the above.

First, note that we have nested two questions into one. Students must first decide what color the ocean is and then decide why.

Second, note that we have included the “none of the above” option to limit the use of deductive reasoning.

Third, note that even if students can deduce that the ocean is blue and not clear, certain parts of incorrect answers include factually correct information (i.e., option C) to make the deduction more difficult.

Fourth, note that both options A and B are correct color answers (blue) with factually true supporting reasons. Consequently, students must choose the best correct answer from the choices.

There are certainly other tactics that could be employed to make multiple-choice questions more challenging. For example, suppose that in the question above we included an option F that states “Both A and B are correct.” This answer adds yet another layer of difficulty in reasoning for students.

But the overarching point is that multiple-choice questions used in quantitative assessments can be just as challenging as free-form questions, if not more so. So I urge that when graduate faculty are drafting exam questions for their classes, they strongly consider the merits of quantitative questions as a part of the overall student assessment toolkit.

About the Author

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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