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Instructor Perspectives of Multiple-Choice Questions in Summative Assessment for Novice Programmers

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Computer Science Education Volume 20, Number 3, ISSN 0899-3408


Learning to program is known to be difficult for novices. High attrition and high failure rates in foundation-level programming courses undertaken at tertiary level in Computer Science programs, are commonly reported. A common approach to evaluating novice programming ability is through a combination of formative and summative assessments, with the latter typically represented by a final examination. Preparation of such assessment is driven by instructor perceptions of student learning of programming concepts. This in turn may yield instructor perspectives of summative assessment that do not necessarily correlate with student expectations or abilities. In this article, we present results of our study around instructor perspectives of summative assessment for novice programmers. Both quantitative and qualitative data have been obtained via survey responses from programming instructors with varying teaching experience, and from novice student responses to targeted examination questions. Our findings highlight that most of the instructors believed that summative assessment is, and is meant to be, a valid measure of a student's ability to program. Most instructors further believed that Multiple-choice Questions (MCQs) provide a means of testing a low level of understanding, and a few added qualitative comments to suggest that MCQs are easy questions, and others refused to use them at all. There was no agreement around the proposition that if a question was designed to test a low level of skill, or a low level in a hierarchy of a body of knowledge, that such a question should or would be found to be easy by the student. To aid our analysis of assessment questions, we introduced four measures: Syntax Knowledge; Semantic Knowledge; Problem Solving Skill and the Level of Difficulty of the Problem. We applied these measures to selected examination questions, and have identified gaps between the instructor perspectives of what is considered to be an easy question and also in what is required to be assessed to determine whether students have achieved the goals of their course. (Contains 3 notes, 11 tables, and 4 figures.)


Shuhidan, S., Hamilton, M. & D'Souza, D. (2010). Instructor Perspectives of Multiple-Choice Questions in Summative Assessment for Novice Programmers. Computer Science Education, 20(3), 229-259. Retrieved May 13, 2021 from .

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