Characteristics Of Essay Type Examination

It’s good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used test questions and the test banks that now frequently provide them.

Multiple-choice questions

Advantages

  • Quick and easy to score, by hand or electronically
  • Can be written so that they test a wide range of higher-order thinking skills
  • Can cover lots of content areas on a single exam and still be answered in a class period

Disadvantages

  • Often test literacy skills: “if the student reads the question carefully, the answer is easy to recognize even if the student knows little about the subject” (p. 194)
  • Provide unprepared students the opportunity to guess, and with guesses that are right, they get credit for things they don’t know
  • Expose students to misinformation that can influence subsequent thinking about the content
  • Take time and skill to construct (especially good questions)

True-false questions

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Considered to be “one of the most unreliable forms of assessment” (p. 195)
  • Often written so that most of the statement is true save one small, often trivial bit of information that then makes the whole statement untrue
  • Encourage guessing, and reward for correct guesses

Short-answer questions

Advantages

  • Quick and easy to grade
  • Quick and easy to write

Disadvantages

  • Encourage students to memorize terms and details, so that their understanding of the content remains superficial

Essay questions

Advantages

  • Offer students an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities in a variety of ways
  • Can be used to develop student writing skills, particularly the ability to formulate arguments supported with reasoning and evidence

Disadvantages

  • Require extensive time to grade
  • Encourage use of subjective criteria when assessing answers
  • If used in class, necessitate quick composition without time for planning or revision, which can result in poor-quality writing

Questions provided by test banks

Advantages

  • Save instructors the time and energy involved in writing test questions
  • Use the terms and methods that are used in the book

Disadvantages

  • Rarely involve analysis, synthesis, application, or evaluation (cross-discipline research documents that approximately 85 percent of the questions in test banks test recall)
  • Limit the scope of the exam to text content; if used extensively, may lead students to conclude that the material covered in class is unimportant and irrelevant

We tend to think that these are the only test question options, but there are some interesting variations. The article that promoted this review proposes one: Start with a question, and revise it until it can be answered with one word or a short phrase. Do not list any answer options for that single question, but attach to the exam an alphabetized list of answers. Students select answers from that list. Some of the answers provided may be used more than once, some may not be used, and there are more answers listed than questions. It’s a ratcheted-up version of matching. The approach makes the test more challenging and decreases the chance of getting an answer correct by guessing.

Remember, students do need to be introduced to any new or altered question format before they encounter it on an exam.

Editor’s note: The list of advantages and disadvantages comes in part from the article referenced here. It also cites research evidence relevant to some of these advantages and disadvantages.

Reference: McAllister, D., and Guidice, R.M. (2012). This is only a test: A machine-graded improvement to the multiple-choice and true-false examination. Teaching in Higher Education, 17 (2), 193-207.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 28.3 (2014): 8. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

Posted in Educational Assessment
Tagged with assessing student learning, designing test questions, grading strategies, multiple-choice tests, test questions

Characteristics of different types of Essay

Note: With all the types of rhetorical strategy mentioned below, we are not talking about essay "types", but about rhetorical styles which writers use for particular purposes. Some essays ask for a more expository than argumentative style, and for particular strategies within those styles. As we shall see later, authentic essays actually require you to use a combination of these styles.

Expository(mainly):
"Exposition" is a rather formal term which really means either "information" or "explanation", modes of communication we might use to write a manual, offer instructions on how things work or  where to find things, or recount what happened during a revolution, etc.
Below we have identified 4 types of expository essay found in university curricula: 

Descriptive
Science-related essays often require background description: of a thing, process or state of affairs - analyzing it into its parts. This can be done chronologically, serially, hierarchically, etc. It is a test of your ability to select and synthesise ‘factual’ information.

Explanatory


This approach is asked for in essay looking for an account of reasons or causes in relation to perceived effects or results. In most Social Science disciplines, you will be asked to draw on theory to support your explanation. Your interpretation demonstrates how well you understand the relevant theories.

Illustrative


This could be fairly descriptive, but illustrations need to be relevant and appropriate, and written with explicit reference to the theoretical point being supported.

Analytical


This could apply to experimental data, or to an argument or text. It is the process of breaking down something into its component parts, often in order to analyse patterns or categories based on a theoretical position.

Argumentative (mainly)
Argumentative

literally refers to everything that involves debate and possible disagreement, and to opinion as opposed to the uncontested facts of exposition. It means agreeing or disagreeing with a given proposition, either strongly or tentatively.

In more general terms it refers to a more subjective style of writing, where writers engage in defining their terms or interpreting and evaluating the views, evidence or data very clearly from their own perspective or viewpoint.

Defining


Essays which expect a strong defining component are common in philosophy, but also feature in Sociology.
A question may look factual- e.g. ‘Do we have free will?’ , but the way to answered it is by careful definition of what is meant by the concept of free will.

In Sociology, in particular, competing definitions often need to be explored at length, particularly in essays on social stratification or social class.

Evaluative
Some essays require you to pass judgement or make an assessment, according to stated criteria. In cases when you could say ‘Well, it depends what you mean by (X) ... ’, it is important that you define theterms by which you apply or explore these criteria. Terms, such as "success" or "effectiveness", are often value-laden.. Basically, you may be asked to judge how good or bad something is, or how far it is true.
E.g.: Evaluate the contribution of political parties to the development of
the movement for democracy in Hong Kong

Note: Interpretation + Evaluation:Critical Review Essays typically combine these processes and styles of writing 

In all argumentative essays, you are expected to
consider all sides of an issue before taking a stand, and then to
argue for the validity of your own position

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