Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Essays vs multiple choice

I spent quite a bit of yesterday reading the new report from the Centre for Policy Studies (right wing think-tank) on abolishing quangos in the schools sector. I won't talk about that - too close to work, probably not that interesting - but people might be interested in another paper published by one of the authors of the current paper, last January: Ticking the Boxes (PDF link).

He argues that in English schools essays should be abolished and replaced as an assessment tool by multiple choice exams.

This is part of the new Tory drive to refocus education explicitly on subject knowledge, away from 'critical thinking skills'. This change of emphasis is a real bandwagon now.
There is of course an intractable problem with (essay questions): there are no right or wrong answers...

In the real world, where a lack of knowledge can have disastrous and costly consequences, the essay exam is increasingly irrelevant.
It's also part of the efficiency drive to reduce spending on state-funded education.
When compared to essays tests that are adequately marked, multiple choice tests are ... over 7,000 times more efficient in terms of marking time.
I think he makes a good point, which is that poor marking of written essays relies on overly rigid formula-marking, and teaching young people to write to a framework, rather that creatively. I think this is a bad feature of the French academic system which we have imported. But I think it is eccentric of him to think that abolishing essay writing will improve pupils' literacy, handwriting and ability to express themselves in writing.
Replacing essay exams with multiple choice tests will not immediately help our children become better writers. But it will at least eliminate a lot of counter-productive activity in and out of the classroom, and make it possible to introduce teaching practices that will improve children’s basic literacy skills.

Being charitable, I see he runs a dyslexia charity so it may be that he or someone he loves such as a child is badly dyslexic, and this may be why he doesn't like essays.
essays are grossly inefficient. Also, they unfairly penalise bright pupils who, for whatever reason, find writing difficult.
I think good writing is a skill which most people don't even notice - it's like clean fresh air, that you literally don't see because it is what it should be. I think it will only be taught and learned well when it is better valued as a skill by the people who make decisions about education and the curriculum. I think getting rid of essays will make teachers neglect writing even more than they do now.
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