Assessing Evaluation with multiple-choice questions

In a previous post I covered the KUE model and bemoaned the infrequent application of U and E in multiple-choice questions. Assessing evaluative thinking in multiple choice may seem the hardest of the lot, because it’s the most abstracted form of learning. In fact, it’s relatively easy provided you are very clear about exactly what you are testing for with each question.

Continuing the cycling theme, I’d like you to imagine you are talking one-to-one with a student, and you want to know if he can evaluate why one should not ride on the pavement. What might he say, spontaneously in conversation, that would convince you he really had evaluated the issue?

“You shouldn’t ride a bike on the pavement”

He’s stated a rule, but failed to justify it.

“You shouldn’t ride a bike on the pavement because it’s bad”

Linguistically, he’s stated a reason, but it’s a tautology.

“You shouldn’t ride a bike on the pavement because it’s dangerous to pedestrians”

This we like. He’s stated a consequence.

“You shouldn’t ride a bike on the pavement because it’s against the Highway Code”

We like this too, because he’s cited authority. If he’d have just said ‘the rules’ it would have been tautological again.

“Riding on the road is better, because the road is smoother”

A completely different argument, but equally evaluative. He’s compared and contrasted.

“You shouldn’t ride a bike on the pavement, my mate did it and hit a pedestrian”

Also good; he’s cited evidence. He’s also generalised – not always a good thing, but certainly evaluative.

This last brings me to the sting in the tail of evaluation. What if he’d said “You should ride on the pavement because it’s safer than the road.” Evaluative thinking doesn’t lend itself to single right answers and this can conflict sometimes with the right/wrong nature of multiple choice.

Nonetheless, with a clear aim statement we can do a lot. My aim statement will be “I want to know whether students can evaluate the dangers of riding on the pavement from an ethical standpoint”. Note that just by saying that, I’ve leant towards an evaluation of consequences. The foils will all be written as evaluative statements.

You should not ride a bicycle on the pavement, because

  • you might hit, and hurt, pedestrians (correct)
  • pedestrians might yell at you
  • you might hit a lamp-post and hurt yourself
  • only young children would do it, so you’d look uncool

Once again I’ve constructed the distractors to be as close as possible to the key. The only significant difference is the one thing I am testing for. Typically for a question testing evaluation, all the foils are correct, but the one we are after demonstrates a perception of the ethical issues involved in pavement-cycling.

So, to summarise, to demonstrate evaluation, a student might
use modal verbs (could, should, ought, might etc)

  • enumerate consequences (or causes)
  • cite authority (moral, legal, spiritual)
  • compare or contrast
  • cite evidence
  • generalise from examples

Finally one thing I can’t emphasise enough. Personally, I am completely unable to construct decent U or E questions until I have written a properly specific aim statement. Once I have written one, they seem to come really quite quickly. This may be individual to me, but I certainly recommend you try it.


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