Improve comprehension by re-stating ‘not’ questions into positives

Here is a question from our database, with one of its distractors (incorrect answers), and a feedback statement written by a student:
Question Distractor Feedback statement written by student
Which one of the following is not a network topology? Bus Bus is not a network topology.
Do you see the problem? ‘Bus’ is indeed a network topology. By stating the question in the negative, the distractor becomes a double negative – ‘bus’ is NOT NOT a network topology. And guess what – the student (who had got the question right, by the way) is sufficiently confused that s/he has written entirely the wrong feedback.
Now there’s not just one of these – our moderators fish stacks of them out of the feedback stream so they won’t confuse other students. We see a far higher proportion of confused feedback statements with negative questions than with positive ones.
I have long suspected that negative questions placed an unnecessary and unhelpful cognitive burden on students, but until now not had proof. This feedback statement (and more are copied below) did not cause the confusion, but rather they revealed confusion that was already there but occluded.
Negative questions confuse students.
The better alternative: checkbox questions
You can replace a negative Choose-one question with a Checkbox question. Here is an example:
Choose-one
Q: Which of these colours is NOT found in the Union Jack?
F: Red
T: Green
F: Blue
Checkbox
Q: Which of these colours are found in the Union Jack?
T: Red
F: Green
T: Blue
You can see that these are functionally equivalent. What is more, it is easy to change the mix of correct and incorrect options in a Checkbox question – they are extremely flexible. I have written elsewhere about some of the other benefits of Checkbox questions: https://blog.yacapaca.com/tag/checkbox/
Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 20.59.54
So the rule of thumb for authors is: replace your negative questions with positive Checkbox questions, and see the benefit in students progressing faster, with less back-tracking over concepts they have got confused about.
More examples from our database
In each case, remember that the distractor is one of the incorrect options. The students’ feedback statements all indicate extreme confusion of one sort or another – despite the fact that every single one of the students answered the question correctly in the first place. Just imagine what it must be like for students who got it wrong!
Question Distractor Feedback statement written by student
Which one of the following is not a network topology? Bus Bus is not a network topology.
Which one of the following is not a network topology? Star Because it is not a network.
Which of these is NOT an example of a field Post Code Because post code is a title. its a question for example: what is your post code ? a field is more of a statement.
Which of these is NOT an example of a field Post Code A post code is something that has multiple pieces of information specific to a person which is too specific a field is something general.
Which of these is NOT an advantage of a computer-based database? Can make changes easily This is wrong because it is not easy for it to make changes easy it will take a LONG TIME.
Which of these is NOT an advantage of a computer-based database? Can make changes easily This is wrong be case sometimes you cant make changes that easily.
Which of these is not a suitable password? d. X8D4W9%1a Because it’s difficult to remember and it looks stupid.
Which of the following is NOT a data type in Access? Date/Time Because you cant really save a data type in “data/time” if its about a data type in access.
The shaded areas in the picture on the right show when each member of a project team will be working. Which one of the following statements is NOT true? The last week of the project requires the most people. Because the most people are going to go on that day but not because they need to.
Sandra has a PC in her bedroom but her parents will not allow her to use it to access the Internet. Which one of the following is NOT likely to be a cause of their concern? Sandra might spend too long in her room, on her own A child should not stay in their room alone because they need to bond with other people their age and spend time with their family and friends.

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