[op-ed snap] Why MCQ isn’t an option

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Mains Paper 2:  Governance| Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: The newscard discusses impact of introducing MCQ based examination is in every domain, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The growing legitimisation of the MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) pattern of exams for all sorts of entrance tests, particularly in the field of liberal arts and social sciences, indicates the poverty of pedagogic imagination that seems to have inflicted a team of techno-managers and academic bureaucrats.

Background

  • The JJNU will be adopting the online MCQ mode for conducting entrance examinations for all its academic programmes, based on the recommendations by a committee formed to study the feasibility of conducting the entrance test online.
  • The JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), however, raised objections about the online mode for conducting entrance examinations saying that the JNU administration’s decision to convert the present robust system of written examination for BA, MA and MPhil-PhD which is conducted in various centres around the country in physical form into online mode defies any logic and reason.

Issues

  1. First, thinking all disciplines, be it English literature or mathematics, on the same scale, love for mindless standardization has been reduced into a set of “objective” postulates, or “puzzles” with only one “correct” answer thereby deteriorating the status of the liberal arts and social sciences. and destroy thinking and creative imagination.
  2. Second, tend to see knowledge as the acquisition of mere “facts”, free from “ideological” aberrations or “subjective” prejudices.
  3. And third, with the hallucination of “mathematical precision”, feeling that creative articulation is dangerous or equivalent to madness because everything has to be fitted into the standardised/dominant formula or theorem.
  4. The idea of having a question to which there is only one correct answer is problematic, Manufacturing one-dimensional consciousness — a mind incapable of living with plurality, ambiguities and unresolved paradoxes.
  5. It has done severe damage to the culture of learning. The fetish of 99 per cent marks in the board exams is killing the creative faculty of schoolchildren. With rote learning, they have mastered the technique of reducing everything into a set of bullet points depending on the marks allotted to a question.
  6. Teachers, too have lost their agency. Even for selecting M.Phil/Ph.D candidates they have been asked to rely on the MCQ pattern of entrance test.
  7. The idea of complete objective examination defeats the comprehensive evaluation policy of the subjective paper which looks into the holistic requirements in student for MA and MPhil-PhD which covers both the knowledge potential and writing skills.
  8. As teachers are not supposed to think or evolve our unique modes of selection and evaluation. Only formulate “objective” questions, and specialise ourselves in generating an MCQ bank.

The case for multiple choice questions

  1. Despite his reservations, there is merit in multiple choice questions for two reasons – they guarantee objectivity in marking, he feels, and when the number of candidates is large, relieves teachers of the responsibility of checking. They have eliminated “the space for bias”.
  2. The responsibility of maintaining the sanctity of the evaluation process in terms of preservation of the answer sheets that undergo a subjective evaluation is also a challenge.
  3. It argued that the reform and outsourcing the conduct of the test to another party, will “minimise man hour losses to the university” and be eco-friendly.

Way Forward

  1. Tests would not reward rote-learning if there were a few short answer questions and the multiple-choice ones were more carefully designed.
  2. It is possible to set good multiple-choice questions if the paper-setters spend a bit more time making them more confusing or indirect.
Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.
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