True or False? Using True-False Quiz Questions is a Total Cop Out

Written by Trina Rimmer | Jun 8, 2010 2:52:59 PM

Writing solid, results-oriented quizzes is, in my opinion, one of the biggest challenges of training design.  And of all the quiz question types we commonly use, perhaps the most abused and disrespected is the “True or False” (T/F) question.

Over the years I’ve heard T/F questions described by training managers and fellow designers as “filler”, “weak”, “a crutch”, “lazy”, and “ineffective.”  That’s some pretty harsh language!  How did T/F questions get such a bad rap?  Are T/F questions the ultimate training design cop-out, or, is it more likely that we just don’t use them well? In my experience, it’s the latter.

So, how can we start using T/F questions more effectively?

1. Write the Quiz First

Admit it: You save quizzes for the end of the design process when you’re in a crazy rush to meet your deadline.  It’s okay; we’re all guilty of the occasional after-thought quiz.  However, our tendency to save writing quiz questions until the end is one of the biggest factors contributing to the bad reputation of T/F questions.  Think about it:  When you save quiz questions for the end of the process you’re usually focused on the quantity of questions, rather than the quality of questions. And what’s the quickest, easiest question type to use (and abuse)?  The T/F question, of course! 

Instead of waiting until the last minute, try writing quiz questions at the beginning of the design process as a way to ensure you’ve covered all of the objectives and that your questions are probing for trainee comprehension AND application.  After all, why put all that effort into crafting great training only to short-change a primary measure of its impact?

2. Use the Right Question for the Job

Because T/F questions are everyone’s go-to quiz question, they’re often misused. Much like using a hammer to swat at a fly - T/F questions may get the job done, but the collateral damage is pretty significant.  Rather than blame the hammer (T/F questions), it's time we recognized which situations aren't well suited to the use of the T/F tool.

Here's an example:  Assume for a moment that I’m using online training to teach trainees how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  At the end of my training, I want them to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their own.  Since I can’t observe them to verify that they can apply proper sandwich-making technique, I need to use the right type of question to test the objective.

 How effective do you think a T/F question will be in this situation?

Hm. Although this question may tell me which of my trainees understands the basic ingredients and process for making a pb&j, it’s not the best choice for testing their ability to actually assemble a sandwich. What if we used a sequencing question instead?

Much better. Sequencing of steps is a great choice to use for assessing a trainee's ability to apply a series of steps - in this case the steps required for preparing a virtual pb&j. While the T/F question focused strictly on identifying specific ingredients, the sequencing question is better suited to my objective because it tests for the actual usage of the ingredients.  The T/F question is all about theory, but the Sequencing question is all about action.

3. Make Your T/F Questions More Substantial

Here's a tip: the next time you think about using the T/F question, stop for a moment and ask yourself:“Is there a more substantial way to ask this question?” T/F questions are a quick way to get to the heart of knowledge, but if you want to test for understanding AND how knowledge is applied, you need to find a way to tweak the delivery of the traditional T/F question. Here’s another example - this one from a recent Workplace Harassment Course I re-designed.  Which wording requires more critical-thinking from trainees?


      True or False?  Employees who engage in harassing, offensive, or inappropriate conduct off-site and after work hours cannot be reprimanded for their behavior.
        A. True
        B. False
(correct)


      According to several employees, Sarah and Josh made racist jokes during a recent off-site party for a retiring colleague.  When the offensive conduct was brought to management's attention, employees were told that Sarah and Josh couldn’t be reprimanded because the party was held off-site and after work hours.  Is management right or wrong?   
A. Right:
        Employee conduct at off-site and after-hours events is not the employer's responsibility.

B. Wrong:
        Employees who engage in harassing conduct off-site and after-hours can be reprimanded for their behavior.
(correct)

True or False? The T/F question has been unfairly blamed for our lack of understanding of how to use it well.

True! Thankfully there are plenty of gurus and guidelines to help all of us become quizzing pros.  Check out these two fabulous blog posts from Cathy Moore’s “Making Change” blog with great perspective and practical tips for using multiple choice questions. 

What do you think of T/F questions: training design cop-out or over-taxed testing tool?  Please share your ideas with the Mindflash community by clicking on the comment link.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at trina@rimmer.net.