No Multiple Choice Tests

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday,  January 12, 1911: Finished taking examinations today for this month. I don’t believe I made very good marks. It seems to me as if I am going backwards every month instead of going forward.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

It’s hard to envision schools without the ubiquitous multiple choice and true/false tests, but the examinations that Grandma took WERE NOT multiple choice tests. Multiple choice items were invented in 1915. And the exams probably did not include true/false, matching or fill in the blank items. All of these question types were popularized during the 1920s by educational psychologists who promoted the concept of scientific testing.

Grandma’s exams probably included arithmetic tests that contained math problems which students copied off the blackboard. Portions of the exam were probably oral since mental math was valued prior to the development of calculators.

The examinations that Grandma took probably included recitations and oral responses. For example, a student might be required to recite a poem that he or she memorized. Or the teacher may ask a student questions about material that has been covered in class.

Discussion tests gave students the opportunity for free, organized, and individualized expression on the topics involved.

Martin Stormzand

In other subjects there probably were essay or ‘discussion’ tests. Sometimes students were directed to merely outline their response rather than write a polished essay.

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