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The Futility of Essay Type Questions Explained

Examination is the highlight of the school system in majority of the countries. The test construction largely depends on the teacher and which automatically introduces subjective bias in the testing methodology. Every teacher has different views about the type of test questions that can help gauge the learning of the individual. And more often than not, teachers rely on essay type questions to assess individual learning. Of all the different types of tests, the least effective is without doubt essay type tests.

While essay type questions provide greater freedom to students in answering the question, this very trait makes the subject exam type test ineffective in accurately gauging student’s knowledge regarding a subject matter. In this article, we will look at the limitations and criticisms of the essay type exam, and what are some good alternative to effectively measure knowledge of the students.

1. Vague Wordings

The foremost criticism of exam type question is that the questions are usually vague and do not establish limits within the essay. Words such as describe, explain, or elucidate that are normally used in the essay type question create confusion on part of the students regarding the requirements.

Students generally include whatever information that is necessary to describe a point. This is because the essay type questions are open to different interpretations. They do not clearly set expectations nor give an indication of the content that should be used to answer the question. Even if the student has in-depth information regarding a topic, he or she may fail to clearly answer the questions due to vague wording of the question.  

2. Subjective Scoring

Probably the biggest criticism of essay type question is that it is subject to subjective scoring. After reading the essays, the teacher will develop a positive or negative bias that will result in unfair scoring. Sometime the prejudice of the teacher against a particular group of students can also result in unfair subjective scoring.

Apart from bias and prejudice, there is also room for errors in marking the questions. The instructor may wrongly interpret the students reasoning that would otherwise be correct. The subjective grading of the teacher may discourage the student who will not make the effort to answer the question correctly the next time.  

3. Tunnel Vision Problem

The third problem with essay type questions is that it is not adequate to gauge the extent of the knowledge of the individual. The test does not allow room for extensive examination of the content. Students are generally taught to cover all the subject matter but the test only covers a small part of the topics that were taught to them.

To sum up, essay type questions do not adequately measure the knowledge of the individual. The wording of the test is subject to vague interpretation. Also, the teacher’s bias, prejudice, or oversight can influence the grading. Lastly, the questions do not adequately test the entire material.

When using an examination software, the teacher should consider using multiple choice or true and false objective questions. The test maker should learn how to effectively use objective questions for testing students. Using subjective questions is not recommended as it defeats the very purpose of taking the exam—to gauge students understanding of the subject.  

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