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5.3 Confidence-based marking

Another way of using multiple-choice questions to promote deep learning is confidence-based marking. In this form of the MCQ, learners not only select a preferred answer, but also indicate how confident they are that this answer is correct. Marks are then assigned on the basis not only of whether the answer is correct, but also of confidence that the answer is correct. Assigning marks in this way makes it less likely that learners will simply guess. It also indicates the areas where many learners are having problems and/or have misunderstood material.

One way of doing this is to assign learners a certain number of marks for each question. They can then allocate these marks as they wish.

An example is an MCQ test in which each question has four possible answers and the students all have four marks to distribute for each question. The correct answer to Question 1 in this test is (b).

  • Some students may be confident that answer (b) is correct, so each of them allocates four marks to that answer. In this case they are right, so each of them receives four marks for Question 1.
  • One student is unable to decide between answers (a) and (b), so assigns two marks to each of them, and receives two marks for answering (b).
  • Another student has no idea, and distributes their marks evenly, allocating one mark each to answers (a), (b), (c) and (d). They receive the one mark they allocated to answer (b), but they have also clearly indicated their uncertainty to the educator.
  • A final student is falsely confident of the correct answer. They assign all their marks to answer (c) and therefore receive no marks. By allocating marks in this way, they indicate that they have a misconception, which the educator can then address.

A related approach allows students several attempts at a question. If they get the answer right first time, they get full marks for that question. If they are wrong, they receive a helpful piece of feedback, perhaps one that points them to the relevant piece of the course material. If they are right the second time, they get half marks. If their second answer is wrong, they receive no marks and an explanation of the correct answer is provided.

This works well on a large scale, but the educator has to write explanations for every answer, which makes this approach labour-intensive at the small scale.