Purdue University Graduate School
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Characterizing Multiple-Choice Assessment Practices in Undergraduate General Chemistry

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posted on 2019-12-04, 20:22 authored by Jared B BreakallJared B Breakall

Assessment of student learning is ubiquitous in higher education chemistry courses because it is the mechanism by which instructors can assign grades, alter teaching practice, and help their students to succeed. One type of assessment that is popular in general chemistry courses, yet difficult to create effectively, is the multiple-choice assessment. Despite its popularity, little is known about the extent that multiple-choice general chemistry exams adhere to accepted design practices or the processes that general chemistry instructors engage in while creating these assessments. Further understanding of multiple-choice assessment quality and the design practices of general chemistry instructors could inform efforts to improve the quality of multiple-choice assessment practice in the future. This work attempted to characterize multiple-choice assessment practices in undergraduate general chemistry classrooms by, 1) conducting a phenomenographic study of general chemistry instructor’s assessment practices and 2) designing an instrument that can detect violations of item writing guidelines in multiple-choice chemistry exams.

The phenomenographic study of general chemistry instructors’ assessment practices included 13 instructors from the United States who participated in a three-phase interview. They were asked to describe how they create multiple-choice assessments, to evaluate six multiple-choice exam items, and to create two multiple-choice exam items using a think-aloud protocol. It was found that the participating instructors considered many appropriate assessment design practices yet did not utilize, or were not familiar with, all the appropriate assessment design practices available to them.

Additionally, an instrument was developed that can be used to detect violations of item writing guidelines in multiple-choice exams. The instrument, known as the Item Writing Flaws Evaluation Instrument (IWFEI) was shown to be reliable between users of the instrument. Once developed, the IWFEI was used to analyze 1,019 general chemistry exam items. This instrument provides a tool for researchers to use to study item writing guideline adherence, as well as, a tool for instructors to use to evaluate their own multiple-choice exams. The use of the IWFEI is hoped to improve multiple-choice item writing practice and quality.

The results of this work provide insight into the multiple-choice assessment design practices of general chemistry instructors and an instrument that can be used to evaluate multiple-choice exams for item writing guideline adherence. Conclusions, recommendations for professional development, and recommendations for future research are discussed.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Roy Tasker

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Marcy Towns

Additional Committee Member 2

Anne Traynor

Additional Committee Member 3

Franziska Lang