Negatively-Marked MCQ Assessments That Reward Partial Knowledge Do Not Introduce Gender Bias Yet Increase Student Performance and Satisfaction and Reduce Anxiety

Bond, A. Elizabeth; Bodger, Owen; Skibinski, David O. F.; Jones, D. Hugh; Restall, Colin J.; Dudley, Edward; van Keulen, Geertje
February 2013
PLoS ONE;Feb2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
Multiple-choice question (MCQ) examinations are increasingly used as the assessment method of theoretical knowledge in large class-size modules in many life science degrees. MCQ-tests can be used to objectively measure factual knowledge, ability and high-level learning outcomes, but may also introduce gender bias in performance dependent on topic, instruction, scoring and difficulty. The ‘Single Answer’ (SA) test is often used in which students choose one correct answer, in which they are unable to demonstrate partial knowledge. Negatively marking eliminates the chance element of guessing but may be considered unfair. Elimination testing (ET) is an alternative form of MCQ, which discriminates between all levels of knowledge, while rewarding demonstration of partial knowledge. Comparisons of performance and gender bias in negatively marked SA and ET tests have not yet been performed in the life sciences. Our results show that life science students were significantly advantaged by answering the MCQ test in elimination format compared to single answer format under negative marking conditions by rewarding partial knowledge of topics. Importantly, we found no significant difference in performance between genders in either cohort for either MCQ test under negative marking conditions. Surveys showed that students generally preferred ET-style MCQ testing over SA-style testing. Students reported feeling more relaxed taking ET MCQ and more stressed when sitting SA tests, while disagreeing with being distracted by thinking about best tactics for scoring high. Students agreed ET testing improved their critical thinking skills. We conclude that appropriately-designed MCQ tests do not systematically discriminate between genders. We recommend careful consideration in choosing the type of MCQ test, and propose to apply negative scoring conditions to each test type to avoid the introduction of gender bias. The student experience could be improved through the incorporation of the elimination answering methods in MCQ tests via rewarding partial and full knowledge.


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