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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 1996
Testing, Testing: A, B, C, D, None of the Above
Mitchell M. Handelsman, University of Colorado at Denver
Joseph J. Palladino, University of Southern Indiana

We can't believe the summer is over and we are back in our offices ready to teach. OK, at least we're back in the office! And we know students will have lots of questions about tests: how to take them, how they are graded, and, of course, what will be on them.

Students have a lot to learn about tests, and we're here to help. First, we'll introduce some basic elements of test-speak, the language used by faculty about the tests they give. Here are some examples of test-speak:

When the teacher says:

What the teacher means:

There will be no questions from chapters 12, 13, and 14.


The entire exam will cover chapters 12, 13, and 14.

The exam will emphasize a conceptual understanding of the material.


I can't remember the facts either.

This time I've decided to give an essay exam. It is time to assess your critical thinking skills.


The secretary wouldn't type the 175-item multiple-choice test last night at 5:00 p.m.

One of the unique features of this class is the oral exam at the end of the semester.


My dissertation defense was a nightmare, so someone has to pay.

I am disappointed with your performance on the exam.


I am disappointed with the prospects for world peace too, but I'm not going to do anything about it.

The test shouldn't take the entire period.


Don't make dinner plans.

Now, for extra credit why don't you . . .


You will be filling out teacher evaluations next week, and I hope you remember my kindness in granting extra credit.

Grades are not important; what is important is how well you understand the material.


Look, enough arguing about the questions, I'm losing most of these arguments.

Don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks.


Posttraumatic stress disorder is the most common diagnosis after taking one of my exams.

When answering these multiple-choice questions, select the best answer.


When answering these multiple-choice questions, select the one you think I would select.

I want you to feel free to raise questions about the items on the exam when I return them.


As long as you don't question my answers.

Feel free to use your creativity in answering the essay questions.


Answer the way you think I would answer.

You are unlikely to graduate from college without answering hundreds of multiple-choice questions. These questions have two advantages: (a) they can be scored by machine, and (b) the odds of answering correctly are usually 1 in 4. To be successful, you should develop strategies for answering these questions (several strategies are illustrated in the cartoon accompanying this column). Here are a few multiple-choice items to give you an opportunity to practice test-taking strategies before your first exam or quiz of the semester.

  1. Which of the following is true?
    a. B and C
    b. A and C
    c. A and B
    d. all of the above
    e. none of the above
    f. both D and E (see chaos theory for an explanation)
  2. What is paranoid schizophrenia?
    a. Who wants to know?
    b. I KNOW why you asked this.
    c. C is for conspiracy.
    d. It doesn't matter; as emperor, I've outlawed it.
  3. Which group has the highest prevalence of humor-impaired personality disorder?
    a. accountants
    b. stat professors
    c. members of Congress
    d. students who attend Psi Chi business meetings
  4. What was B. F. Skinner's nickname as a child?
    a. "Butch"
    b. "Bar Press"
    c. "The Operator"
    d. "The Reinforcer"
  5. What is state-dependent learning?
    a. a new DSM category
    b. a federal welfare program
    c. 2 + 2 = 5 (in Indiana or where prescribed by law)
    d. belief that people in Colorado can't learn anything
  6. When does Stage 4 sleep occur?
    a. 3 minutes after experimental psychology class
    b. 3 minutes before experimental psychology class
    c. while reading the APA Publication Manual
    d. during theater class
  7. I am anxious
    a. never
    b. sometimes
    c. always
    d. A and C, wait . . . often B but definitely C at times. But then again, on Tuesday, I, I, I, uh . . . uh . . . , I uh, uh.
  8. Ted and Agnes are observing the eyes of their newborn daughter as she sleeps. They are amazed they can see her eyes darting back and forth. Ted was a psychology major (GPA = 1.26) in college and Agnes was an English major, so Agnes (GPA = 4.00) asks Ted what the darting eyes mean. What does Ted say in response?
    a. "I think our child has variable-interval eyes."
    b. "I think our child needs glasses."
    c. "Our child has extrasensory perception."
    d "How did I ever graduate?"
  9. Mary was driving to school when a tire suddenly blew; she struggled in vain to gain control of the car. The car hit a truck and flipped over, coming to rest in the median of a busy highway. A van full of graduate students in social psychology just happened to be a mile behind Mary. What happens at this point?
    a. The students tried to turn the car over, but social loafing took its toll and they failed miserably.
    b. The students counted the number of people who drove past the accident and did not stop, then they packed up and left.
    c. Mary asked the students to serve as witnesses for a professor who gives makeup exams only for legitimate, verifiable excuses.
    d. The students spent an hour brainstorming about what they should do.
  10. Which of the following students is going to have the best material for his or her term paper?
    a. Al who consults the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology for his paper on altruism.
    b. Dan who consults the Journal of Abnormal Psychology for his paper on schizophrenia.
    c. Beth who consults the Journal of Experimental Psychology for her paper on memory.
    d. Carol who consults the TV Guide while searching for material for a term paper and spends hours reading every article.

As you see, writing multiple-choice questions is quite an art; it takes years of painstaking effort and practice to perfect the skills necessary to write questions that look like they cover important material but are trivial enough so students can't complain and professors obtain a good distribution.

We tried to provide some insights into the design and rationale for quizzes and exams. We hope you earn an A or B (not C or D), either always, most of the time, or sometimes.

SEND US YOUR BEST QUESTIONS. In future columns we hope to present more of our unbelievably helpful comments about tests, both multiple-choice and essay (or, if there's not enough space, short answer). We invite you to send us the best psychology test questions you've ever seen, whether you wrote or answered them. After we get finished being amazed that you actually read this far in the column, we'll publish some of the best questions we receive.



Copyright 1996 (Volume 1, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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