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Do Students Behave Rationally in Multiple Choice Tests? Evidence from a Field Experiment

  • María Paz Espinosa


    (Departamento de Fundamentos del Análisis Económico II, University of the Basque Country, (UPV/EHU), Spain)

  • Javier Gardeazabal

    (Departamento de Fundamentos del Análisis Económico II, University of the Basque Country, (UPV/EHU), Spain)

A disadvantage of multiple choice tests is that students have incentives to guess. To discourage guessing, it is common to use scoring rules that either penalize wrong answers or reward omissions. In psychometrics, penalty and reward scoring rules are considered equivalent. However, experimental evidence indicates that students behave differently under penalty or reward scoring rules. These differences have been attributed to the different framing (penalty versus reward). In this paper, we model students’ behavior in multiple choice tests as a choice among lotteries. We show that strategic equivalence among penalty and reward scoring rules holds only under risk neutrality. Therefore, risk aversion could be an alternative explanation to the previously found differences in students’ behavior when confronted with penalty and reward scoring rules. We suggest the use of a modified penalty scoring rule which is equivalent to the reward rule for whatever risk attitudes students might have. To disentangle the effect of framing and risk aversion on students’behavior we design a field experiment with three treatments, each one with a different scoring rule. Two of these scoring rules are equivalent but have different framing, while the third is not equivalent but has the same framing as one of the other two. The experimental results indicate that differences in students’ behavior are due to risk aversion and not due to different framing.

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Article provided by College of Business, Feng Chia University, Taiwan in its journal Journal of Economics and Management.

Volume (Year): 9 (2013)
Issue (Month): 2 (July)
Pages: 107-135

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Handle: RePEc:jec:journl:v:9:y:2013:i:2:p:107-135
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  1. Marco Haan & Bart Los & Yohanes Riyanto & Martin van Geest, 2002. "The Weakest Link - A Field Experiment in Rational Decision Making," Experimental 0203001, EconWPA.
  2. Bram Cadsby, C. & Maynes, Elizabeth, 2005. "Gender, risk aversion, and the drawing power of equilibrium in an experimental corporate takeover game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 39-59, January.
  3. Haigh, Michael S. & List, John A., 2002. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Working Papers 28554, University of Maryland, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
  4. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  5. Suzanne Scotchmer, 2008. "Risk Taking and Gender in Hierarchies," NBER Working Papers 14464, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Becker, William E & Johnston, Carol, 1999. "The Relationship between Multiple Choice and Essay Response Questions in Assessing Economics Understanding," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 75(231), pages 348-57, December.
  7. Espinosa Alejos, María Paz & Gardeazabal, Javier, 2007. "Optimal Correction for Guessing in Multiple-Choice Tests," DFAEII Working Papers 2007-08, University of the Basque Country - Department of Foundations of Economic Analysis II.
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