Wednesday, 12 May 2010

great questions of the universe IV

it has come to my attention that recently, my posts have become dreary and a tad too serious. i reckon, this just cannot do; and is totally in contradiction with my self-proclaimed (in)ability to never age. thus, we shall re-visit a long-lost passion, a guilty pleasure, and a sin of the mind... great questions of the universe.

now, i know most of us have no idea what i'm talking about. even i don't, really, as the great questions are more of a diffuse and abstract collection of thoughts and tenets than substantial questions themselves. but, just like a silly highschool crush, like an undying devotion to god, like a sally in front and towards of an unknown enemy; it is not important or even relevant to understand who (what) you face, but it is more pertinent to realise that some things, you just must do (like your mom, OH).

anyway, let us consider the notion (as opposed to question) for today - MCQs and how they are spawned from fire and brimstone. for those who may have forgotten what the acronym stands for, multiple choice questions are either the bane or the salvation of students everywhere. just like how the army version of the penultimate noun, MCQs hand out free stuff, at the cost of them being second-hand. let's elaborate.

first, i don't really get an MCQ test design. especially tests which fully and exclusively employ MCQs as the entirety of an assessment (and this is quite popular still in the states). generaly the questions are set up such that you've got 4 choices, two of which are ridiculously out there, such that only someone particularly retarded or keen on taking a repeat would even consider them. so, for the average person, you can say after eliminating the two dummy answers, it's a 50-50 either way. not bad odds, and you don't need a gambler to tell you that. although gamblers would bet on any odds anyway. which reminds me how awesome the statisticians (also swindlers) who design gambling endeavours are - it's like the extreme realisation of making money through maths. and conning idiots. except blackjack i guess. in which case the house wins, still, else there wouldn't be blackjack tables in vegas. i digress.

but anyway, with a passing score requirement of 50%, one could theoretically pass exams just by learning how to eliminate the decoy answers (which is not a particularly hard task, or so i would hope for university students or more). this is increasingly true when some lecturers somehow deemed that a(n insanely) large number of questions would better test students' knowledge base and understanding of the subject. i mean, this makes sense, right, to have a better statistical power through larger sample size? true, but when the n value is so high (like an MCQ i saw with 250 questions. i mean really. 2 hundred and fifty what the hell), you're just making more allowance for central limit theorem enthusiasts (i.e. students getting out that lucky d4). should totally get some 20-choice MCQs in there so d&d nerds can whip out that d20. obviously the questions would have an innate chance to roll a saving throw, too.

hmmm. i guess i'd write more, but the crux of the argument is pretty clear. for all those people who relied on lady luck to get you through MCQs (and even more so those who outperformed others who actually studied) - i hate you so much. don't get me wrong, having MCQs with the working basis that students actually attempt to answer the questions based on what they have learned is a beautiful (albeit utopian and idealistic) concept. but (and i can show you the tissue math i've done for this on the bus), for those who actually study for the exams (incidentally, i don't really think i can put myself in this group either :/ ) there's always going to be that upper limit score to which you can strive to attain, after which the rest is going to be guesswork anyway. or bargaining with the devil. which makes it even more sour to see those who wiled their hours away in the pub score better (at the exams and with the women) because their upper limit was so low, they, quite literally, lucked out.

i like how this post started out as a well structured idea and turned into a full-blown rant. kinda. ish. so dunces rejoice. occult-conspirators celebrate. schemers and strategists (for lack of a better term) hurrah. and for the horses of student life, enter your MCQ finals with the tenet:

abandon all hope, ye who enter here (this is supposed to relate somehow to the fire and brimstone reference from earlier).

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