Multiple choice questions (MCQs) will form the first section of the reformed OCR Gateway GCSE (9–1) science papers. Learners will be presented with a question and four possible answers to choose from, so they will have to kick three incorrect answers into the long grass. There are a number of different approaches on how to best prepare your students for this change.
The methods presented here will not guarantee that your learners get 100% in their MCQs. Instead they are presented to stimulate a discussion within your school as to how you can best prepare your learners.
Looking for the right answer
One way is simply to look for the one that looks right. I have found that higher ability learners do tend to get simple answers wrong – ‘it can’t be that easy’. I have heard this too many times when doing a post mortem with a learner on their practice papers. If it is simple and it looks right then according to William of Ockham it must be right. This is the principle of parsimony or Occam’s razor. Why start to muddy the waters by looking elsewhere? If the question asks you what is a black and white domesticated bovine creature that goes moo and can be a source of milk for your daily corn flakes – it’s a cow!
Identifying and dismissing wrong answers
One of the most common approaches where the answer is not as black and white as a Holstein is to identify and dismiss the wrong answers. With a peak of over 7 million viewers, the popularity of the BBC game show Pointless shows that this approach can be fun. In this game show contestants must ignore the most popular answer to the question and identify the least popular answer. This approach could be used for MCQs. If the learner is not sure about the right answer – why not look for the obscure or most wrong answer and dismiss it? This approach worked well for Sherlock Holmes: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
So how can you prepare your learners to do this?
Something I have tried at school is to flip the MCQ on its head: a multiple choice test where the learners have to get everything wrong. They have to score zero, zilch, zip, nought, nada, nothing. Because the theory is that if they can identify the wrong answer, then they surely know the right one. I’ve uploaded an example of this approach to the OCR Community for you to take a look at.
The experience I have had with this is that initially the learners find this task difficult – but they soon realise that they are simply being asked to identify the wrong answer. In an MCQ this may enable them to switch easily from finding the right answer to finding the wrong answer. Eliminating the most incorrect answer will therefore give them a better chance of finding the correct answer from the answers that are left.
Crawford Kingsnorth - Subject Specialist - GCSE Science
Crawford is currently working on the development of the Biology GCSE Gateway Suite. He was, until recently, a teacher of science and Head of Faculty. He’s passionate about teaching by novel approaches, particularly when used to open science up to students that are currently disaffected by the topic.
Before teaching, Crawford worked as a Higher Scientific Officer for the Civil Service at Horticulture Research International and Rothamsted Research. He has a Microbiology degree from the University of London and a D.Phil. from the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, where he investigated transcription factor induced gene regulation in filamentous fungi.
In his spare time he plays the 96 bass accordion and Irish bouzouki in both a ceilidh band and with a three piece group. He’s also been known to do the odd Morris dance or two. When he has any time left over, he’s trying to maintain his 1967 Series 2a Landrover and an MGB GT with his daughter.