"What if I don’t know the answer?"

Fifth-grade Students’ Responses to Uncertainty in Test-Taking

  • Ruth A Childs OISE, University of Toronto http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2687-0955
  • Susan Elgie Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
  • Amanda Brijmohan Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
  • Jinli Yang Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Abstract

Fifth-grade students watched a short video and then responded to multiple-choice items, including several without correct answers. Based on computer-supported stimulated recall and semi-structured interviews, we tested three common assumptions about what students are thinking when they respond to multiple-choice items in spite of being uncertain of the correct answer. We found that none of the assumptions applied to all students. For example, many of the students believed leaving items blank was unacceptable, in part because it might create the impression that they were not trying on a test. Furthermore, although most students recognized when they were uncertain, a few did not.

Keywords: multiple-choice items, response processes, uncertainty, meta-memory, guessing

Author Biographies

Ruth A Childs, OISE, University of Toronto

Ruth A. Childs is a professor and the Ontario Research Chair in Postsecondary Policy and Measurement in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. Her research investigates the design and equity of large-scale assessments, admissions processes, and other evaluation systems.

Susan Elgie, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Susan Elgie is a research consultant specializing in social research methods. She has worked on numerous studies and evaluations in the fields of education and measurement. She worked for many years as a research consultant at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Amanda Brijmohan, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Amanda Brijmohan is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. Her research interests include educational assessment, metacognition, and rater judgement.

Jinli Yang, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Jinli Yang is currently a researcher at the University of Toronto; she was a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the time of the study. She has broad experience analyzing both qualitative and quantitive data from studies related to post-secondary education, as well as to elementary and secondary education.

Published
2020-01-02
How to Cite
Childs, R. A., Elgie, S., Brijmohan, A., & Yang, J. (2020). "What if I don’t know the answer?": Fifth-grade Students’ Responses to Uncertainty in Test-Taking. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De l’éducation, 42(4), 905-930. Retrieved from https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3849