The Art of Multiple Choice in the Era of CCLS

Multiple choice test taking and quizzes are used to assess your mastery of basic knowledge and information; and awareness of test-taking techniques and strategies.

In 8th grade English Language Arts all of the test questions asked are modeled from the Common Core and current state tests. Students are not being asked basic comprehension questions, rather students are being assessed on their ability to read and comprehend texts through deep analyses. This means that questions will address inference, academic vocabulary, author’s craft and purpose, and central ideas.

Here are some strategies to help approach these types of questions.

First and foremost, it is important that you understand the question. The question is called the stem, and the answer choices are called distractors. The purpose of the distractors is to distract you from identifying and choosing the correct answer. Thus, in the process of taking a multiple choice test or quiz, all of your knowledge, expertise, and judgements are utilized. The first thing upon being presented with a question is to ask yourself, “What is the question asking?” Look for keywords or phrases to help you understand. It is important to have the central point clearly in your mind before going on to consider the distractors.

Let’s look at an example from the most recent quiz for To Kill A Mockingbird. The question states:

“There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into, “murmured Calpurnia, and she spat meditatively into the yard. We looked at her in surprise, for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.” (Chapter 1).
Based on the passage, it can be inferred thatA. Calpurnia doesn’t like Mr. RadleyB. Calpurnia is superstitious

C.  Calpurnia is African American

D. Calpurnia is mean

The question is not asking how Calpurnia feels about Mr. Radley. The stem is asking what can be inferred. An inference is a logical conclusion or theory based on prior knowledge (schema) and textual evidence. It is obvious that Calpurnia doesn’t like Mr. Radley, she spits into the Radley’s yard and states he is “the meanest man.” What is the author stating between the lines of the passage. That is the inference to look for.

Make sure you read the stem correctly. Notice the way the question is phrased. One of the most important principles in test taking is understand what the question is asking and understand exactly what the stem is asking before considering the distractors.

Another technique for assessing the stem and interpreting the question correctly is to rephrase the question so that it is very clear in your own mind. Rephrasing in your own language can help you to read the question correctly and, in turn, choose the appropriate response. If possible, think of the correct answer before considering the distractors.

Distractors are various alternatives chosen to be as close as possible to the right answer. One method of helping you choose the correct answer is to ask yourself whether each possible alternative is true or false in relation to the stem. If you are answering a test question in which one distractor is considerably different from the others, it is probably not the correct choice. Look for similarities in two or three of the choices remembering that the purpose of the distractors is to divert you from the one right answer. Another effective technique for handling multiple variables is to use the process of elimination.

Thus, going back to our example above. It is too obvious that Calpuria doesn’t like Mr. Radley so we can eliminate answer A. It is possible that she is mean (Answer D) because she is talking badly about another character and because she spits in the yard, maybe she is superstitous (Answer C). But looking closer at the passage, the later states, “Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people.”  This is the first time in all of Chapter 1 that the author has made a comment about race. Never before had the author mentioned anything about race or color. Why would Calpurnia rarely comment on the ways of white people? Based on what we know and have learned in social studies during this time period in the Jim Crow era, it was proper etiquette for African American not to say anything about white people. We can infer that Calpurnia is African American (Answer B) because of this textual detail and our prior knowledge from social studies.

How do we get students thinking more deeply about the text and going beyond the literal meaning is what most teachers are focusing on these days. To help my students go deeper into the text, I created different types of classroom activities that require students to go back into the text multiple times. Below is a multi layered close reading activity that begins with the literal recall of the novel and then moved into deeper text dependent questions. The more students talk about the text and the more they go back into the text, deep interpretation and understanding is possible.


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One thought on “The Art of Multiple Choice in the Era of CCLS

  1. […] want to continue my post from last week with a closer look at how to create text dependent questions that scaffold students’ reading […]

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