Multiple Choice English Grammar Test Items That Aid English Grammar Learning for Students of English as a Foreign Language

By Adisutrisno, D. Wagiman | K@ta, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Multiple Choice English Grammar Test Items That Aid English Grammar Learning for Students of English as a Foreign Language


Adisutrisno, D. Wagiman, K@ta


Abstract: In the teaching of English as a foreign language in Indonesia, the teaching and testing of English grammar are indispensable. To test English grammar mastery, the multiple choice test must be used due to its merit of guaranteeing the fulfillment of the content validity of achievement tests. Unfortunately, the construction of many multiple choice test items has not been based on a very important consideration to aid learning processes. This paper discusses the need to use multiple choice test in English grammar achievement testing, two cognitive learning theories that underlie the importance of constructing multiple choice items that aid learning processes, and examples of faulty multiple choice test items and their revisions.

Key words: focus on form instruction, content validity, long term memory, non-occurrent forms

James Dean Brown (1996, p. 56) in his book Testing in Language Programs constructed the following English grammar test item as a model for English teachers to follow:

The boy stepped on a piece of ice and ................ flat on his face

a. fell

b. fall

c. felled

d. falled

The intended key is, of course, option a. fell. The content of the problem is the English simple past tense. Option b. fall, is not a content of tense, but concord between the subject and the predicator. This option causes the test item to contain a mixed content: a problem of tense and a problem of concord. In solving the problem, test takers or testees have to process two things: thinking about tenses and concord. Option c. felled, is a correct past tense form but the meaning is not "fall down" but "cut down" such as felling trees. This option causes testees to think about word meaning, a problem of semantics. Option d. falled, is a non occurrent form in English, that is, a form that does not exist in the English language. As in real life situations people do not use language forms that do not exist, this option may be interpreted as a correct form in English by uninformed testees. Hence, option d misleads students' learning processes of English tense.

The following test item was constructed by an English teacher of a TV program in Indonesia:

The party (a. end b. ends c. ended) at 11 o'clock last night.

It is a good idea that this test item does not necessitate four options, as the desire to always have four options for all grammar test items may end up with undesirable faulty options. The correct option of this test item is c: ended, the past tense form option b: ends, is desirable because it is also a tense form. But option a: end, is not a tense problem but a subject-predicator concord problem. This option is, therefore, undesirable as it does not facilitate the students in their learning of English tenses.

The item below was constructed by an English language teacher in Indonesia:

What you just now was quite difficult to understand

a. explain

b. explaining

c. explained

d. explains

This item poses a tense problem and the key is c: explained. Option a: explain, is desirable as it also pertains to tense. Option b: explaining, is not desirable because 'explaining' is not a correct, finite form of the predicator of the subject 'you'. Option d: explains is not desirable either since it poses a problem of subject-predicator concord, not a tense problem. This item has a mixed content.

This item was constructed by an English student teacher in Surabaya, Indonesia:

Miss Nanik and Miss Sandra works at school.

They teach Math. They are ...................

a. teacher

b. teachers

c. teachers

d. teaches

The predicator 'works' indicates that this English student teacher still has a language problem. This item poses a problem of plural noun. The key is option c: teachers. Option a: teacher, is desirable since plural nouns are usually contrasted with singular nouns.

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Multiple Choice English Grammar Test Items That Aid English Grammar Learning for Students of English as a Foreign Language
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