People Innovation Excellence

Multiple Choice vs Essay

Multiple Choice vs Essay

Written by: Elia Oey – Faculty Member of IBM, Lecturer of GSCM, CCM & OM

I once took a certification exam. It’s supposed to be one of the hardest one, since words that passed from the training organizers are “its hard and only the experience professionals can pass. If you are fresh grads, no matter how high your GPA, you can’t pass the test”. So, that’s apparently the statistics back then.

And guess what: The exam is multiple choice! When I took it I must admit, it’s  true. Even though it’s a multiple choice exam, its well thought!. Choosing amongst the answers is not easy. They design the choices that are so similar, and only the best choice is correct. And I think they kind of cheated on us, because some of the quantitative problems do not give exact answer, instead we have to choose the nearest best answer. Anyway, I hardly pay attention to it anymore, as I passed the test.

When designing an exam for university student, we can also argue: which one the best format? When asking about the best format, the criteria of course the one that can help the lecturer assessing whether the students are eligible to pass, while at the same time encouraging analytical mind of the students.

Most of the time, my fellow lecturers argue that case study is the best one. It gives enough room for analytical mind of the student, while at the same time giving lecturer some degree of freedom to grade. I don’t argue the merit of case study exam, but here are some impractical reasons of why:


  1. Millennial Generation’s handwriting quality

Either I am wrong or its true, Millennial generations live mostly by “typing” or “swiping”, and hardly hand-write anymore. So the case study exam can give freedom of analyzing as well as sore eyes to the lecturers who grade them, making us difficult to put consistency check amongst the students

  1. Against economic of Scale

Case study is best designed for niche market. To make them rich, it’s better for the student to do group work and brain storm: when the time is ample and group ideas generation is possible. In other words, it’s better for assignment grading, instead of exam grading.

Exam grading suppose only to final-check whether students know the overall subject. It’s a mass-production system. With that kind of system, it’s not efficient and effective to do it for exam grading.

  1. It’s not entirely fair system

What is designed to give some degree of freedom for analyzing and more opportunity for better grade, ends up to not entirely fair system. Case study exam typically get higher grading point: so once you can’t do it, it’s difficult to compensate in other problem of the exams. Multiple choice is fairer system to me, since the problem are wide-spread across the whole topics, giving more chance to student. Those students who can get full mark in multiple choice exam is the one who master the whole topics, instead of only specific area.


  1. It’s easier to leak

When a student asked by its fellow student what was the exam. If it’s a case study, he/she can easily remember the problem, since the case is unique and easy-to-remember. But if it’s a multiple choices and have enough quantity, no student can remember them all, except if he/she bring hand phone into the class. So multiple choices exam are more leak-proof J



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