Are True/False Questions Useless?

Posted By Doug Peterson

As a test designer, I need every question to tell me something about the learner that I didn’t know before the question was answered: Does the learner have the knowledge for which the question is testing? Developing questions costs money, and every question takes up some of the learner’s time, so every question needs to be effective.

Is a True/False question effective? Does it tell me whether or not the learner actually learned anything? One would think that if the learner answered correctly, it would mean the learning was successful. The problem is that with only two choices, the learner has a 50% chance of simply guessing the correct answer. So does a correct answer really mean the learner possessed the knowledge, or does it simply mean the learner guessed correctly? You can’t tell, so the True/False question cannot be counted on as an indicator of successful training.

So is that it for our good friend, the True/False question? No more True/False questions on our quizzes, tests and exams? Is the True/False question history?

No, not at all.

While a True/False question may not be truly able to tell you what a learner does know, it is very good at telling you what a learner doesn’t know! When the learner gets a True/False question wrong, you can be guaranteed it is because they don’t possess the desired knowledge.

This means that True/False questions work very well on pre-tests given to the learner before the training. They can help identify what the learner doesn’t know so that they know the topics on which to focus in the training.

So don’t give up on the trusty True/False question! Just make sure that you understand what it really shows you about the learner, and that you use it in the right place.

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