Writing Quizzes – A stumbling trip … down memory lane

But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

  • Deuteronomy 9:3

Be assured that my words are not false;
    one who has perfect knowledge is with you.

  • Job 36:4

I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

  • Galatians 1:20

The first Scripture is from an address by Moses.  He is telling the Israelites who are about to cross the Jordan River, after his death, that they will be victorious.  But for the average Israelite, how much assurance did they have?  Was it a 50:50 coin flip?  Was it 75%?  Was it 90%?  Hey, this is almighty God who is speaking through Moses, should it not be 100%?

The next two Scriptures roughly say the same thing.  Do we have to ask the same question?  We probably should in that the first assurance of telling the truth is from Elihu, who was far from truthful.  After Elihu spread his bilge on top of what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had already done, God had to step in and end the farce.  But the Galatians Scripture was written by the Apostle Paul.

As of A Gentle Touch Quiz, on 14 May 2022, I have posted one hundred quizzes, now even more.

Where is this going?  I was thinking about the tons of multiple-choice questions that I used to write in a former life.  At least, it seems to be a former life since it was in the 1980s.  I got so good at it that others called me “devious, shrewd, mean, and other attributes that will remain part of the past.”  I had a few of the guys in the bullpen read a test bank over, and my friend, who went by the name of “Ugly”, but only to his friends, started laughing.  Someone asked him what was so funny.  He said, “Question 76.  The wrong answers are definitely wrong, but if you don’t read it careful, you could choose any o’ them wrong answers.”  His friend said, “Yeah, I liked that one, too.  It’s a keeper but knowing how sloppy these guys are taking these tests, I bet you ten bucks that not half of them will get it right.”

He lost the bet, but not by much.  People claimed that the question was a trick question, but the truth was that if they carefully read the options and they knew the information, only one answer was true. But unless you had a very devious mind, you might not come up with more than 2-3 wrong answers that were tantalizing to go along with the right one.

Then a year later, I had not received a pay raise, but I got a major promotion, the manager in charge of ensuring that the industrial site’s training program could be an accredited program.  Others on our team had specific duties, but I had a myriad of duties and the job of putting everything together, including the rules we would live by.  The program that I was instrumental in starting, up to that point, was the only one to achieve that accredited status when they dropped the concept as being too costly, but …

The other training department heads complained that my rules for writing test questions were too hard, and they wanted them relaxed.  They wanted to reinstate true/false and multiple-choice questions with three possible choices.  Those were much easier to write, according to them.  Thus, we had a meeting.

An accredited course generally will not accept a true-false question because without knowing anything, the trainee could get half the questions right.  If some were poorly written, they could get even more correct, maybe even pass the exam without knowing anything.  Thus, a test with mostly true-false questions could never be validated to assure management that the trainee knew enough about his job.

The managers said that they could write a valid true-false question.  I was prepared and I showed a single sentence that was basically a paragraph in length.  The managers, certified in their positions, “knowing everything,” were split.  Half said the statement was true and the other half false.  It was 90% true and one little prepositional phrase made it false.  But the managers told me that I was tricky, but it took that kind of complexity to make the statement a good question, and still, a coin flip gets the right answer half the time.

Then, they went after three-choice multiple-choice.

I explained that the average test writer cannot be devious enough for people to not eliminate one of the choices as just being obviously wrong. Thus, you are left with two choices, and we are back to the coin flip.  Invalid.

Then one manager asked, “But you keep saying invalid.  What are you really saying?”

I replied, “Let’s take the course I taught all last year.  There were sixteen topics.  There were six learning objectives per topic, and a few had seven.  That is roughly 100 learning objectives.  But the written exam only had 50 questions.  Those guys with poor reading skills would be there all day with a 100 question exam.  No matter what type of questions are used, the validity of the exam cannot assure you that the trainee knows more than 50% of what he was supposed to have learned.  You did not test him on the other 50%.  Now, you allow a passing grade of 75%.  You have someone miss twelve questions.  They passed.  Now, about that employee, we know that he knows (if the questions are valid) 38% of the material.  We have no idea about 50% of the material, and we are assured that he does not know 12%.  But if these questions were true-false or 3-choice multiple-choice, you cut down the validity of your exam to 19% because getting the right answer is a 50:50 chance of being right without knowing anything.  Do you want a mechanic that has to be right 100% of the time on a critical piece of equipment who you only know that they know 12% of what they need to know?”

The managers said some choice words, most wishing me to permanently go some place that was hot all the time, and they filed out of the room, retracting their demand for less stringent examination rules.

It was a shame.  I wanted to have them take the “Fribbled Breg” exam.  There are many websites with the exam.  It is ten questions in length and all the questions contain mostly gibberish.  But if you are a savvy test taker, you can pass the test with a perfect score, when every question is nonsense.

How?!  Ask if the answer is a logical answer for the question as stated.  Is their anything in the answer that uses the same gibberish that the question used?  Do the subject and verb agree between the question and answer?  What if the answer must be two things, but only one choice lists two things?  If the answer is a fill-in-the-blank and the blank is at the end of the sentence, look for the only answer that ends with a period (sloppy test writing there).  And if there are three short answers of gibberish and one long one that includes things like “only if this” and “except for that,” choose the lengthy answer.  The test writer was only precise with the correct answer and was less precise with the wrong answers because they were wrong anyway.  And then, the last question in the fribbled breg exam answers the first question with the answer given for the last question as part of the first question, making both questions invalid.  And then, once you have finished the exam, even you can discover, without knowing anything other than how to take an exam, with what does a Fribbled Breg minter best.  Hint: The question ends with “an” and the answers only have one choice that is a vowel, Ignu.  See?  Easy!

Back in March of last year, I wrote a quiz called Peter, Paul but no Mary Quiz.  My initial aim was to write a list of things that Peter had done and things that Paul had done.  So, all the answers were either Peter or Paul.  But as I thought about it, this one thing that Paul did, Peter had also done.  And vice versa.  I had to provide a third answer for “both Peter and Paul.”

I think that is one reason why I enjoy writing the Quizzes that come out on Saturday mornings.  It lets me go down memory lane, and it let’s me get some of the deviousness out of my system.  Okay, for those who have done poorly on some of the quizzes, you now have my confession that I am devious, but if it got you to open your Bible and read a little, we both win.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. I have two Grand daughters who just scored a 35 and 36 on the ACT test. They practice what you just explained. Yes, you are devious in a correct sort of way. people who think emotionally wouldn’t do well.

    Liked by 2 people

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