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Banning Multiple Choice Questions In Professional Exams Will Lock The Doors Of Mainstream Employment To Many Forever

August 4, 2008

When you first read about the case of Naomi Gadian, you may think she has a point. She is a second-year medical student who claims that she has difficulty answering multiple choice exam questions because she has dyslexia. She claims that the use of multiple choice questions in professional exams discriminates against people with this DisAbility. So she is now planning to take legal action against the General Medical Council in an attempt to ban the use of multiple choice questions in professional medical exams.

My first reaction to this case was that Ms Gadian is taking this too far. After all, I wondered, if she finds multiple choice questions difficult, could she not just have asked for a different method of testing for herself, passed her exams and left it at that?

You see, I have a physical DisAbility. I am lucky enough to be able to communicate verbally, but for  many of my friends who are not so lucky, multiple choice is the only method of communication and expression they are able to use in all areas of their lives. As a result, I have always loved the system. When I first heard about her case,  I was unable to understand why Ms Gadian, or anyone with dyslexia, would have difficulty with it.

So it has taken me some time to write about this case. At first, even though I disagree with Ms Gadian, I was reluctant to write about her at all. After all, since I don’t have dyslexia, or know very much about it, I can accept that those who do have problems that are very different to mine. And I realise that people with severe physical DisAbilities will never realistically be able to sit medical examinations, as they will never realistically be able to become doctors.

I decided to write this after reading about an interview with John MacKenzie, Ms Gadian’s lawyer, in which he said ‘Every professional body or employer who relies for a professional qualification, or as a promotional gateway, on multiple-choice questions, is heading for a fall.’ 

This makes it clear that, if Ms Gadian’s case is successful, the use of multiple choice questions could be banned from all professional exams. Some have argued that medicine could be the wrong profession for Ms Gadian and others who have her DisAbility. Of course, locking people with dyslexia out of medicine as a direct result of their DisAbility would go firmly against the Disability Discrimination Act. That is the last thing that I would ever want to see happen. 

I  would like to suggest that the General Medical Council and other professional examining bodies who use multiple choice as a method of testing base the decision not to use this method on individual cases, difficulties and requests. I believe that, by banning this method completely, while they may meet the needs of dyslexic candidates, they will forever lock the doors of professional employment to many others who, as a result of physical DisAbility, can never use any other method of communication. Since these people are intellectually very capable of enjoying a career in the profession of their choice, that would lead to a far worse breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, in my opinion, than the one that Ms Gadian claims is currently being carried out against her.  

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! debate at Same Difference.    



4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2008 7:42 pm

    Wrote a long comment which was lost because I forgot to put in my name 😦

    Basically, multiple choice is a poor way of testing anyone, disabled or otherwise. I agree that individual cases need to be considered, and the traditional “mass testing” approach used by educational bodies is showing it’s age. It may be less cost effective to test everyone individually but surely we can make sure those with genuine need can be assessed for their ability in a subject individually? Let’s just do it without condoning multiple choice, an exam that tests not your ability to learn and comprehend, but to recall.

  2. samedifference1 permalink
    August 4, 2008 11:22 pm

    Thanks a lot for your comments.

    I totally see your point about multiple choice not testing the ability to learn and comprehend. But this is not always the case. What happens when, like three of my best friends, you are unable to use any other method of communication to show your ability to learn and comprehend? Should those who are intellectually capable of doing anything they wish to do be turned away from a profession that is also physically possible just because the examining body has banned multiple choice exams?

    I don’t think so, and neither, I’m sure, do many physically DisAbled students and their parents. That’s why I do, always have and always will condone the use of multiple choice as a method of testing.

  3. August 5, 2008 9:36 am

    Just to underline that I’m not trying to be insulting here, I’m oblivious to the realities so am just ignorant more than anything else…

    But is there really no other way that those that rely on multiple choice questions could be assessed individually? I’m not suggesting that avenues be closed down, and if multiple choice is really the only means then use it *only* for those that have that lack of choice in ways to be assessed. But really I find it hard to believe there is no other way of engaging with these groups of disabled people to find out how competent they are on a subject without multiple choice.

    There is also the wider question of just how “fair” it is for some people to be assessed based on understanding, and for some disabled people to essentially at least get a view at what the correct answers could be solely because of the communication barriers in-front of them. Again, I wouldn’t want to close avenues but this is why I would stress a need for a more comprehensive individual assessment programme for those with communication difficulties, otherwise we end up generalising and dumbing down our examinations to keep them fair to all.

  4. samedifference1 permalink
    August 5, 2008 9:54 am

    There is one other way. It’s called Facilitated Communication.

    But if you have a look at those links, you will see that it’s been heavily criticised. And for exams, where the physically DisAbled already get extra time, using Facilitated Communication would require even more extra time so, if we want to take exams, multiple choice is fairer and less time consuming or tiring for those who find every movement painful.

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