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The Multiple Choice Exam: Friend or Foe?

[Cross-posted at Prawfsblawg, where I am guest blogging this month]

I’m giving my very first multiple choice exam in cyberlaw this semester. I decided to move to a multiple choice exam for a few reasons:

1. Time: I have 85 students (about half 3L) and I just don’t think I can get the exams graded in time for the graduation cutoff. I’ve always believed that I have to read all the exams before assigning grades to some of them.

2. Assessment: More important, I’ve grown a bit disillusioned by the use of essays in this particular class (I’m still giving an essay in Patent Law). Much of the law is factor based and malleable, which you would think might work well in an essay. However, some rules are crystal clear, no exceptions. I’ve found that my students have had a hard time expressing which are which, and also which facts are more important than others in factor based tests.  I want to know if they know the difference, and I think a multiple choice exam will help me find out.

I always told myself that essay exams were better because they help prepare a skill for the bar. However, the bar includes a multiple choice segment, which was much harder than the essays — at least for me.

So, I’m drafting an exam. My students seem worried, in large part because they have no idea what to expect. I wrote several sample questions based on last year’s fact pattern, and I must say that it was very difficult. I’ve always viewed multiple choice exams as easier to grade (which they are), but I have a feeling that I’m going to spend a lot of time writing the exam that I had not spent in prior years.

Any ideas or input on this would be appreciated as I try out something new.