choose the best answer should be designed to test knowledge, not to trick students. While it’s understandable that true/false questions would need to be somewhat tricky, these questions should never be presented in a manner that would force the student to choose the obviously intended correct answer at the expense of the truth.

This is somewhat along the lines of Mitch Hedberg’s joke:

Have you ever tried sugar, or PCP?

This is a very similar situation to the one that I am describing: anyone would realize that the intended answer is “no,” but one is completely unable to say “no” truthfully because of the way the question is prepared.

I won’t relate the specific cause of my indignation for fear of reprisal from my school’s honor system, but I’ll attempt to give an equivalent question:

True or False: A tree is an object which receives sunlight.

“An object which receives sunlight” is not the textbook definition of a tree, of course, but that does not mean that it is untrue. In phrasing this as a true/false question, answering “false” simply because this is not the definition of a tree would mean that a tree does not receive sunlight, and that is untrue. Since trees are objects and do receive sunlight, one could not reasonably answer “false” to the above question. By answering “true,” one does not claim that “an object which receives sunlight” is the only definition of a tree, nor that trees are the only objects that receive sunlight; he only claims that such a definition is a valid one.

Oh, you put “true”? Sorry, the correct answer is “false” – a tree is a “woody perennial plant having a single usually elongate main stem generally with few or no branches on its lower part.” This is according to Merriam-Webster, and is the only correct response.

7 thoughts on “choose the best answer

  1. I just took a final yesterday. In which there were 15 questions (for undergrads, 19 for graduates), each of the format:

    “Discuss (insert data mining concept). Be sure to describe the general logic of the algorithm. Name and describe different algorithms that employ this technique. Include examples of practical applications of (this concept) and also some of its drawbacks.”

    This would be all fine and dandy, if it wasn’t a) comprehensive/cumulative or b) there was a study guide or c) Each chapter wasn’t over 100 slides that was only loosely tied to the information in the book. Needless to say I bombed it.

    Second time you’ve had a Mitch Hedburg quote here recently, did you see the rerun of his special recently on Comedy Central?

  2. no mitch hedberg special – i was just thinking about the applicability of that question.

    and that tree thing wasn’t the real question. it was quite different, but that just seemed to convey the same futility. it was actually a physics test.

    on an unrelated note, we’ve hit 600 posts and surpassed 3000 comments (3,035, to be exact). hooray.

    oh, and frilly toothpicks? i’m for ’em.

  3. if you had a friend, and he was a tightrope walker, and you 2 where walking down the street, and he triped and fell… that would be unaccepable.

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