When do multiple choice questions make sense in Second Language Teaching? Here are a few ideas and suggestions.The multiple choice question type is popular, since it provides the teacher with a lot of flexibility. You can create both single-answer and multiple-answer questions; you can include pictures, sound or other media in the question and answer options. It also makes it possible to weight individual answers. Here‘s a general introduction to the more “technical” aspects of setting up multiple choice questions.
What to consider when using multiple choice questions in a 2nd language learning context
Multiple choice questions will always be placed beneath the text or sentence in question. In other words, multiple choice responses are not embedded in the text, contrary to question types such as cloze, drag-and-drop-into-text or select-missing-words.
This means that the response options are graphically separated from the text they naturally belong to. The visual distance makes it harder for students to establish a natural connection between the constituents of the sentence and the correct solution. Hence, multiple choice questions are probably not the most obvious option for testing grammatical features (e.g. verb conjugations or adjective declensions) where the right solution usually depends on the immediate context.
So, when do multiple choice questions make sense then?
Listening and reading comprehension
I think multiple choice questions are great tools when you want to assess a student’s global, selective, or detailed comprehension of a spoken or written text.
You can make the exercise more or less difficult by splitting the text into smaller bites and asking questions after each. Or you can let your quiz questions cover the text as a whole and have students zoom in on relevant paragraphs and details themselves.
Multiple choice questions work especially well with listening comprehension. Students cannot just mechanically scan a text for the right word or phrase, but have to find the right answer in the transient medium ‘sound’. Decoding the spoken language and dealing with differences between pronunciation and spelling adds an extra layer of difficulty to the exercise.
Training culturally and contextually rooted skills of inference
I am particularly fond of using multiple choice quiz questions to extract information that is hidden “between lines”:
What does A’s gesture mean? Why does B react in a certain way? What does B mean when she says … ? What is the significance of a certain song?
Focusing on unstated facts is a great way of working with your students’ inferential comprehension skills. It is also a chance to discuss the cultural embeddedness of text inferencing and the significance of tacit knowledge during reading. A 2nd language learner does not necessarily share the same cultural and contextual background as that assumed by the text. This makes it harder to detect hidden meanings and affects the ability to reach beyond the words.
Multiple choice questions are great tools to draw your students’ attention to this aspect of language learning and to scaffold their growing understanding of culturally rooted meanings.
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