Tips for using MC questions to highlight a misconception

I’ve been fortunate to observe a number of colleagues using multiple choice questions in their teaching recently. Sometimes these were being used to promote recall of previously taught material. Others were using MC questions to highlight misconceptions.

The design and use of MC questions for highlighting misconceptions seems to be a tougher thing to get right. The problematic aspects appear to be around deciding when to employ this assessment approach, how to design the question/s and how to maximise the learning opportunity.

Here are some tips:

1. Be selective about when you use MC questions to highlight misconceptions. They work best when you can identify errors which often occur in relation to the topic or concept. It really helps less experienced teachers if these common misconceptions are highlighted in the scheme of work.

2. Make sure there is at least one credible ‘distractor’ answer, probably more than one.

3. Don’t lay traps. For example, don’t make an answer ‘wrong’ just because it doesn’t contain the right terminology or isn’t explained clearly enough.

4. Be clear with students what the ‘rules’ of the question are. For example, let them know if there is only one correct answer, or more than one. Warn them that there are answers which are ‘almost right’ or designed to highlight common misconceptions. Explain why you are asking them the question.

5. Make sure they do not confer.

6. Reassure students that you are absolutely fine with them getting the answer wrong; indeed it will be really helpful if some do. Make it safe for them.

7. Employ some method of every student having to decide on an answer and you being able to scan the answers given. Mini- whiteboards are sufficient. I’ve been using Plickers as a low-cost technological alternative, which has the advantage of capturing the data.

8. Don’t give away what the correct answer is until you’ve squeezed the learning out of the exercise. Saying things like ‘most of you have got it right’ will belittle those who didn’t and undermine the potential for learning from mistakes.

9. Encourage students to articulate their thinking. Don’t agree or disagree. Bounce to other students to allow them to add to, or differ, from the rationale given. Make them listen to each other and extend each other’s thinking.

10. Praise those willing to state their thinking, not just those whose thinking is correct.

11. Consider revealing the distractor answer before you reveal the correct answer. Explain clearly why it is not correct, but why students often choose it. Make the mistake feel normal and the opportunity to discuss it valuable.

12. Once the right answer is revealed, focus sufficiently on the reason for it being correct to ensure students are clear. Perhaps pause for them to write down in their own words why this is the correct answer.




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