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Multiple-choice questions : linguistic investigation of difficulty for first-language and second-language students

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dc.contributor.author Sanderson, Penelope Jane
dc.date.accessioned 2011-09-23T09:03:03Z
dc.date.available 2011-09-23T09:03:03Z
dc.date.issued 2010-11
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10500/4836
dc.description.abstract Multiple-choice questions are acknowledged to be difficult for both English mother-tongue and second-language university students to interpret and answer. In a context in which university tuition policies are demanding explicitly that assessments need to be designed and administered in such a way that no students are disadvantaged by the assessment process, the thesis explores the fairness of multiple-choice questions as a way of testing second-language students in South Africa. It explores the extent to which two multiple-choice Linguistics examinations at Unisa are in fact ‘generally accessible’ to second-language students, focusing on what kinds of multiple-choice questions present particular problems for second-language speakers and what contribution linguistic factors make to these difficulties. Statistical analysis of the examination results of two classes of students writing multiple-choice exams in first-year Linguistics is coupled with a linguistic analysis of the examination papers to establish the readability level of each question and whether the questions adhered to eight item-writing guidelines relating to maximising readability and avoiding negatives, long items, incomplete sentence stems, similar answer choices, grammatically non-parallel answer choices, ‘All-of-the-above’ and ‘None-of-the-above’ items. Correlations are sought between question difficulty and aspects of the language of these questions and an attempt is made to investigate the respective contributions of cognitive difficulty and linguistic difficulty on student performance. To complement the quantitative portion of the study, a think-aloud protocol was conducted with 13 students in an attempt to gain insight into the problems experienced by individual students in reading, understanding and answering multiple-choice questions. The consolidated quantitative and qualitative findings indicate that among the linguistic aspects of questions that contributed to question difficulty for second language speakers was a high density of academic words, long items and negative stems. These sources of difficulty should be addressed as far as possible during item-writing and editorial review of questions. en
dc.language.iso en en
dc.subject Multiple-choice questions en
dc.subject Writing guidelines en
dc.subject Item analysis en
dc.subject Readability en
dc.subject Cognitive complexity en
dc.subject First language university en
dc.title Multiple-choice questions : linguistic investigation of difficulty for first-language and second-language students en
dc.type Thesis en


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