multiple choice tests are: (a) totally useless, (b) ideal for all classrooms, (c) useful in some situations, or (d) all of the above
The answer is (c), if you read Tereance Tao’s post. He makes the case that there’s a good place for multiple choice questions in learning, just not for final exams and such. He thinks carefully crafted multiple choice can help student self-assess what they know. Here’s the punchline:
In summary, I believe that there are a number of interesting ways – many of which appear to be underexplored at present – in which some well-designed and self-administered online multiple choice questions can efficiently assess one’s strengths and weaknesses in a given mathematical subject. Of course, having one-on-one interaction with a lecturer or teaching assistant would be a greatly preferable way to achieve this sort of instant feedback, but this is impractical for larger classes. It is also true that a certain level of maturity and discipline is needed on the student’s part in order to actually benefit from these sort of self-assessments, especially since they are not directly contributing to the student’s grade in the class, but my philosophy here is to give the students the benefit of the doubt in this regard; I feel that being able to explore beyond the bare minimum of what is needed to obtain a passing grade is part of what an upper-division course should be about.
I personally use a bit of MC. One use is policing. It’s a quick and easy way to assess who actually did the readings, and creates an incentive to at least skim the books. I also use MC because you can easily vary the difficulty and I can see who can add concepts together beyond what was listed on the review sheet. However, I always have short answers and essays. They don’t tell me much that the MC sections don’t because MC and written essay scores are very highly correlated (about .7 on my tests). But they do send a message – I want you to express yourself in complete sentences and see the big picture.