Original Research

A test taker’s gamble: The effect of average grade to date on guessing behaviour in a multiple choice test with a negative marking rule

Aylit T. Romm, Volker Schoer, Jesal C. Kika
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 22, No 1 | a2542 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v22i1.2542 | © 2019 Aylit T. Romm, Volker Schoer, Jesal C. Kika | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 June 2018 | Published: 11 April 2019

About the author(s)

Aylit T. Romm, AMERU, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Volker Schoer, AMERU, School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Jesal C. Kika, Research, Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation, Department of Basic Education, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are used as a preferred assessment tool, especially when testing large classes like most first-year Economics classes. However, while convenient and reliable, the validity of MCQs with a negative marking rule has been questioned repeatedly, especially with respect to the impact of differential risk preferences of students affecting their probability of taking a guess.

Aim: In this article we conduct an experiment aimed at replicating a situation where a student enters an examination or test once they already have an average from previous assessments, where both this and previous assessments will count towards the final grade. Our aim is to investigate the effect of a student’s aggregate score to date on their degree of risk aversion in terms of the degree to which they guess in this particular assessment.

Setting: A total of 102 first-year Economics students at the University of the Witwatersrand volunteered to participate in this study. The test used in this study did not count as part of the students’ overall course assessment. However, students were financially compensated based on their performance in the test.

Methods: Following an experimental design, students were allocated randomly into four groups to ensure that these differed only with respect to the starting points but not in any other observed or unobserved characteristic that could affect the guessing behaviour of the students. The first group consisted of students who were told that they were starting the multiple choice test with 53 points, the second group were told they were starting with 47 points, and the third and fourth groups were told that they were starting with 35 and 65 points respectively.

Results: We show that entering an assessment with a very low previous score encourages risk seeking behaviour. Entering with a borderline passing score encourages risk aversion in this assessment. For those who place little value on every marginal point, entering with a very high score encourages risk seeking behaviour, while entering with a very high score when a lot of value is placed on each marginal point encourages risk aversion in this assessment.

Conclusion: The validity of MCQs combined with a negative marking rule as an assessment tool is likely to be reduced and its usage might actually create a systematic bias against risk averse students.


Keywords

average score; risk aversion; risk seeking; guessing; multiple choice questions

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