Chapter 02: Learning from the Test: Dos and Don'ts for Using Multiple-Choice Tests


Chapter 02: Learning from the Test: Dos and Don'ts for Using Multiple-Choice Tests


Mark A. McDaniel, Regina F. Frey, Susan M. Fitzpatrick, & Henry L. Roediger III


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Multiple-choice tests are ubiquitous in the classroom; while typically used for assessment, our focus in this chapter is on how such tests can also serve as learning opportunities for students. We review evidence from cognitive psychology that multiple-choice tests can change what students know, helping them to remember forgotten information, boosting retention of recently learned information, and even promoting new learning. However, the educator needs to exercise care when using multiple-choice tests, because by definition multiple-choice questions pair correct answers with plausible but incorrect lures. That is, multiple-choice testing can also yield a negative testing effect, whereby prior exposure to multiple-choice questions boosts the likelihood that students will use multiple-choice lures to answer later general knowledge questions. We evaluate a number of solutions to this problem, with the goal of maximizing the benefits and minimizing any costs of multiple-choice testing. While a number of possible solutions involve changes to test construction (e.g., changes to the plausibility and number of lures), the best solution turns out to be a simple one: educators should make sure to tell students the correct answers after they complete the multiple-choice test. We conclude with a discussion of future directions for research, with an emphasis on the need for additional studies in classroom settings.

Document Type



978-1-941823-00-2 (MOBI), 978-1-941823-01-9 (ePub), 978-1-941823-02-6 (PDF)

Publication Date



Washington University Libraries


Saint Louis


Cognitive Neuroscience | Cognitive Psychology | Educational Psychology | Engineering Education | Higher Education | Higher Education and Teaching | Science and Mathematics Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


Chapter 2, Integrating Cognitive Science with Innovative Teaching in STEM Disciplines. Chapter DOI: Link to complete book available at: Complete book available for purchase through Amazon and Apple. For information about alternative versions, please contact Arranged for publication, sale, and distribution in electronic and print form by Washington University Libraries. All articles Copyright © 2014 by the individual authors.

Chapter 02: Learning from the Test: Dos and Don'ts for Using Multiple-Choice Tests