Multiple Choice Tests Attacked

THE TYRANNY OF TESTING, by Banesh Hoffmann, Crowell-Collier, 223 pp., $3.95

Every one of us in college today has taken a standardized, multiple choice test at some time or other; and most of us have taken them quite frequently. What is more, we have had to perform well on them, or else we would not be here.

For the past few years, these tests, and the extent to which the scores made on them can determine a person's career, have been subjected to heavy criticism. Much of it has come from the pen of one man, Banesh Hoffman, mathematics professor at Queens College and writer of several anti-test magazine articles.

Reprinting liberally from his former pronouncements, Mr. Hoffman has now gathered all his arguments and theories for a final, cataclysimic blast; the only difficulty is that The Tyranny of Testing sounds like a pop-gun.

Essentially Mr. Hoffmann attempts to prove that the multiple choice question discriminates against the mind that is exceptionally subtle. He claims that the questions on this sort of test are fraught with ambiguity--that all too often, more than one of the suggested answers can be shown to be correct. When the gifted student perceives such a situation, Mr. Hoffmann-argues, his indecision about finding the correct answer, he is reduced to deciding what answer seems best to the examiners.

The weaknesses in Mr. Hoffmann's case result from his inability to make a convincing argument that defective questions are as ubiquitous as he threatens they are, and from his failure to explain his belief that the presence of even a few defective questions will hamper the performance of superior students on the remainder of the examination. On this last point he seems to ignore the possibility that the superior student might recognize the defective question for what it is skip it, and forget about it. All we hear from him is that dire consequences will necessarily befall the student "who loses confidence" in either the integrity or the intelligence of his tester.

As Mr. Hoffmann admits, there is no possible alternative to standardized testing. He does not want to abolish the system; he would be content with improving it. His suggestion as to how this can be done is the classic one for a man who has searched, but seen no answers--Dr. Hoffmann wants to form a committee to study the problem.