Reading Quizzes: Day Four

Okay, I feel like the multiple-choice quiz has gotten a bad rap this week and I hate hurting other’s feelings.  So today’s post is dedicated to making the multiple-choice quiz feel more accepted and loved.

However, this post is going to be a little bit like What Not to Wear.  I’m going to be Clinton Kelly and give the multiple-choice a make-over that it needs and deserves.

Just like there is a place for animal print in everyone’s closet (in moderation, of course), there is a place for the multiple-choice quiz.  High-stakes tests almost exclusively use multiple choice tests as an indicator of reading ability…but that is the key:  reading ability, not memory.  I think that is where my hatred of the multiple-choice quiz lies:  I’m a good reader.  I swear.  I am.  Really, I’m a pretty good reader.  But I have the memory of a fish.  Multiple choice quizzes have developed a bad reputation because many teachers use them to test students’ memory or trick them.  Most multiple-choice reading quizzes aren’t actually assessing reading ability, but, just like a guy with a mullet, that doesn’t mean they can’t be transformed to be practical and effective.

To be effective, the quizzes need to mimic the high-stakes tests for which we are preparing them.  As a result, when I do use multiple-choice quizzes in my classroom I always provide the text.  This allows me to see their reading ability.

I also try to use the question stems as often as possible.  For national reading tests (like the ACT, SAT, and AP English exam), determine the common question types asked.  For those tests, some of the most common are questions about

  • What can be inferred about the author or speaker (including assertions and values)
  • Point of view
  • Unusual vocabulary (like definitions and usage/purpose)
  • What ideas are supported by the text
  • That identify main idea
  • Purpose of literary devices


Sometimes I will even code the questions so I can see the strengths and weaknesses of the students based on their answers.  Below is a sample quiz I give students after reading chapters 1 and 2 of The Great Gatsby.


The apartment was on the top floor—a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles. The only picture was an over-enlarged photograph, apparently a hen sitting on a blurred rock. Looked at it from a distance, however, the hen resolved itself into a bonnet, and the countenance of a stout old lady beamed down into the room. Several old copies of TOWN TATTLE. lay on the table together with a copy of SIMON CALLED PETER, and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway.


1.  INTERPRETATION:  Read the passage to the above then consider what the details signify.  It signifies that Myrtle and Tom

  1. Fill their apartment with luxurious items to make them look rich.
  2. Enjoy things that remind them of places they have visited with one another
  3. Purchase furnishings that won’t obstruct the party
  4. Aren’t too concerned about the appearance of the apartment since it is rarely occupied.

2.)      INFERENCE:  Based on the passage to the above, what can you infer about Myrtle and Tom’s relationship?

  1. It is superficial and lacking substance and meaning.
  2. They are happy.
  3. They care only about entertaining their friends.
  4. They aren’t a good fit for each other.

However, if we are really trying to develop students’ reading abilities, we need to ask them to practice and hone them, not just quiz them.  There are a variety of strategies that can help in this area.  Teachers can give the students the text to read for homework and provide the questions stems, which set a purpose for their reading.  Teachers can give the students the text to read for homework and then discuss the text in class prior to the quiz in an attempt to guide the discussion to help them with the questions on the quiz.  Below is a quiz I have given students over the Puritan piece “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  I gave the students the text to read for homework and advised them to summarize the main idea of each paragraph in the margins.  This is a very common reading strategy, but many students forget to do this when reading passages for a multiple-choice quiz.  For this quiz in particular, having a summary in the margins helps them more easily locate the textual support for the questions and helps them better draw inferences.  This is a challenging text and asking them to summarize in the margins is asking them to be active readers.  We then have a discussion the next day about the annotations prior to taking the quiz.  Since they are allowed to use their marked up text on the quiz they are developing their reading skills many skills are being reinforced and evaluated.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards

The point of view from which the passage is told can best be described as that of

  1. A minister who wants to please God
  2. A minister who genuinely cares about the future of those in his congregation
  3. A minister who wants to scare his audience into submission
  4. A minister who is afraid of God’s power

It can reasonably be inferred from the passage that Jonathan Edwards would agree with all of the following statements about the way in which a congregation should feel EXCEPT

  1. Disappointed in themselves for not pleasing God
  2. Joy that they can still be saved
  3. Responsible for displeasing God
  4. Afraid of God

In paragraph 4 (beginning with “So that thus it is…”) the word “provoked” most nearly means

  1. Stirred and roused
  2. Evoked and encouraged
  3. Annoyed and irritated
  4. Teased and tormented

It can reasonably be inferred from paragraph 6 (beginning with “Thus all you that…”) that Edwards believes that

  1. People need to undergo significant, life-altering change to become saved
  2. People need to be more religious when in church because that is when God is watching most carefully
  3. Prayer and biblical study will help one to become blessed and saved.
  4. People need to consider reforming a few key areas of their life to become saved

In the phrase “nothing but…mere pleasure,” the word “pleasure” most nearly means

  1. Amusement
  2. Choice
  3. Joy
  4. Obligation

Based on the imagery used in paragraph 7 (beginning with “The God that holds you…”) it can reasonably be inferred that

  1. Man controls what happens in nature
  2. That nature is viewed favorably by God
  3. God views nature with scorn and disdain
  4. The nature is what is responsible for man’s downfall

All of the following statements about man are supported by the passage EXCEPT

    1. Man is born sinful
    2. Man is destined to disappoint God
    3. Man pleases God through his actions
    4. Man is capable of changing who he is

Okay, so the multiple-choice quiz isn’t so bad I guess.  I guess everything deserves a chance…even “mom jeans,” except when Jessica Simpson wears them.

One comment

  1. Susan richardson says:

    Ok since I was the “whinef” about the multiple choice questions…I really like the idea of identifying the type of questions for the students. Especially at the middle school level, this will guide the students and not “trick” them. It will help them with their thinking process!

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