Conditional Answers to Multiple-Choice Questions: Three Linguistic Problems (and Solutions) for 'if'
69 Journal of Legal Education 384 (2020)
12 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2023
Date Written: February 1, 2020
Multiple-choice questions are a staple of the law school experience, and they appear on the bar exam in every state in the United States. While it’s reasonable to ask whether multiple-choice items are optimal tools for assessing whether students have accomplished curricular learning objectives or demonstrated minimum competence to practice law, the American Bar Association (ABA) requires under its standards for the accreditation of law schools that law schools prepare their students for admission to the bar, and whether schools have done so is measured in large part by their bar pass rates. If for no other reason, ABA-accredited law schools would seem to have a duty to educate their students in multiple-choice technique.
But how many law school professors are prepared to educate their students in multiple-choice technique, as opposed to the doctrine underlying the multiple-choice items, in their formative and summative assessments? Is it possible to instruct students in best techniques for answering multiple-choice questions without being aware of best practices for constructing such items?
The aim of this short article, in which I use linguistic methodology to probe some problems for using “if” as a conditional qualifier in multiple-choice answers, is to suggest that the better response to the latter question is no and from there to inspire new conversations in the legal academy regarding best practices for constructing multiple-choice items.
Keywords: multiple-choice, MBE, bar exam
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