“When Three is Better than Four” – A Comment

Can you see the third snail? (Naomi's photos)
Can you see the third snail? (Naomi’s photos)


Thank you Mr. Simon Mumford for validating my gut feeling that writing three distractors on a multiple choice exercise /exam is better than writing four!

In the article “When three is better than four” (IATEFL “VOICES”, March-April 2015, Issue 243) supports this claim with research findings and makes a very convincing case of his own.

Assuming that distractors are supposed to be relevant to the text (not totally ridiculous!) while clearly being the wrong answer, makes creating good distractors challenging. particularly if the question is about a small excerpt from  the text. According to Mumford, it’s not just an illusion that many distractors aren’t doing their job!

Oddly enough, this is the second time this week that I have encountered the topic of distractors! In a recent “The New Yorker ” magazine, (I get them late and am still reading back issues) there was a personal story about a middle-aged man learning to drive for the first time (he lives in New-York…). Before the written driving exam, his 2o year old son gave him words of wisdom regarding  multiple choice exams. The son stressed that two of the possible answers will be clearly wrong on every question, so even if you rely a bit on guesswork, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right!

I’m with Mumford – quality is much more important than quantity.

Here’s to three possible answers on multiple choice exams!

(Note: Around here multiple choice exams are known as “American Tests”!).

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