Is it time to remove true/false questions from your assessment?

True/false questions have been used within paper-based and digital assessments for longer than I can remember. As an instructional designer they are easy to design, a single question or statement, with a simple two-option answer structure (eg. True or False, Yes or No, Option 1 or Option 2). Digital assessments and automated marking have made this question type even more popular, as they have a simple predefined correct answer and they can be easily marked by a computer, freeing up the teacher/marker to work on other things. However, there are some downsides to the true/false question, which could impact the robustness of your assessment and the knowledge your learners retain.

50/50 chance

While a multiple-choice question will on average have four or more options, a true/false question has only two. In an assessment this means, regardless of the learner’s knowledge of the topic, they have a fifty per cent chance of correctly answering this question. If you are using this question to assess a learner’s understanding of a particular learning outcome, how can you know for sure that they have truly achieved mastery and have not simply had a moment of luck?

Multiple-choice questions still allow for automated digital marking but the chance of guessing the correct answer are greatly reduced. Also, the format of a multiple-choice question allows for much more complex question design and the ability to create powerful answer options (when well-written of course).

What will your learners remember?

True/false questions are often framed as a statement, with the learner asked to decide whether the statement is true or false. What will your learners remember in the days, weeks, months following the completion of your learning content: the statement you provided or whether they selected true or false (and which option was correct)?

True or False –
The average winter temperature in Melbourne, Australia is 27 degrees Celsius.

Take the statement above. As a question, it is a simple (and incorrect) statement about the weather in Melbourne. Do you think if you were not familiar with the weather in this area that you would remember which option you selected, or would the number 27 be forever stuck in your long-term memory? Consider the impact this will potentially have on your learners; they may pass the assessment but in the long term retain the incorrect information. Imagine if this was related to critical safety or medical training, the impact of poorly retained information could be quite dangerous.

Different question types work best for different types of content and the desired learning outcomes. However, true/false questions are a question type best kept for self-assessments/knowledge checks, not formal assessments. When designing your next assessment, ask yourself this, are true/false questions the best way to assess knowledge and embed learning?

Catherine Duncan
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Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

One thought on “Is it time to remove true/false questions from your assessment?

  • 20th May 2020 at 7:36 am
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    Great post Catherine!
    Just this week I have been writing a number of quizzes for our new “H5P in Moodle” online course (https://www.moodlebites.com/mod/page/view.php?id=31619)
    And because of toe constraints I went to my default 10 question in a quiz format (although over time there will be 20-30 questions randomly selected).
    Given that this course is about H5P, I decide to create the end of course quizzes in H5P, and not the Moodle quiz.
    The H5P Quiz (Question Set) has 7 different questions types, including True/False.
    I always limit myself to just one or two True/False questions in a quiz with 10 questions.
    But I agree, because they are SO quick and easy to add there is a temptation to use these a lot.
    I loved your example of the temperature.
    And yes, if I wrote a True/False question that said “England won the football World Cup in 1964” there is a danger that this (incorrect) dates sticks in a learners mind.
    Great point !

    Reply

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