Explanation Option on Multiple Choice Exams

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10 Responses

  1. snitty says:

    Do you find that a large number of students pick the same questions to explain? Or did they when you first started?

    In other words, do you find this helps you write better multiple choice questions?

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    I have used multiple-choice-with-explanation by making each question worth 3 points–1 point for getting the right answer and 0-2 points for the explanation. The trick is that a wrong answer with an explanation that shows some comprehension gets some credit; a right answer with an explanation that is totally off gets zero points (a bad explanation means the student guessed).

    But I like what you do here and think there may be a way to utilize both.

  3. Lawrence Cunningham says:


    Yes, yes and yes: The device can be useful to highlight problems with given questions, in a way that is often more helpful than statistical review of results alone. Of course, the best multiple choice questions are those that have been used many times and are improved with usage. But given changes in law, coverage, current events and emphasis from year to year, new questions or revisions of old questions seem inevitable. So this feedback continues to have potential value even for questions that are well-designed. And, yes, as one’s inventory of questions grows and experience with administration expands, fewer instances occur requiring such refinements.

  4. suijuris says:

    (e.g., a professor teaching both Contracts and Corporations in a single term to large enrollments simply cannot grade 200+ written exams within deadline).

    Ah, was that why Corporations is smaller this spring than last year? Was sorry to get bumped from your section. Hope to rejoin next year.

    I like the idea of the explanation section as you’ve described it. It seems like it would lower stress for students while not completely ruining the benefits to the professor of multiple choice (statistical analysis, etc).

  5. Lawrence Cunningham says:


    Your method is very interesting too. My impression is that yours is more of a hybrid between multiple-choice and essays that offers considerable value but both requires students to make the contributions and professors to evaluate them. The approach I describe is optional and narrowly limited.

  6. Lawrence Cunningham says:


    Good inference.

  7. TRE says:

    One of my profs does the same thing but will consider voiding the question for everyone based on a response. They still maintain the threat of punishment. I’m curious why you would have the punishment aspect. Aren’t you better off guessing? Also is it fair to keep the question if it is ambiguous?

  8. A.W. says:

    i would say that multiple choice should have very little use in the law. the fact is my professor’s ability to weed out all the ambiguities are limited. Some “smartass” student can always point out most questions are not as clear cut as the teacher hoped. but that smartassiness (is that a word?) is a good trait for a lawyer to have.

    Bluntly, in law school, a multiple choice exam is as much a test of one’s ability to take a test as that of the student’s knowledge. And we should be beyond that.

    Now, as far as all of tha overwhelming you, then really the school needs to give you high-quality help. and if they don’t, then you have to pick a least worst option, which might be multiple choice.

  9. recentgrad says:

    “the best multiple choice questions are those that have been used many times and are improved with usage”

    Isn’t there some risk that savvy students will find copies of old exams, and thus have the questions in advance?

  10. Lawrence Cunningham says:


    MC exams must be restricted, meaning all booklets must be returned to get credit for the course.