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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.

Suggested Citation

  • María Paz Espinosa & Javier Gardeazabal, 2013. "Do Students Behave Rationally in Multiple Choice Tests? Evidence from a Field Experiment," Journal of Economics and Management, College of Business, Feng Chia University, Taiwan, vol. 9(2), pages 107-135, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:jec:journl:v:9:y:2013:i:2:p:107-135

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Scotchmer, Suzanne, 2008. "Risk taking and gender in hierarchies," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 3(4), December.
    2. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    3. Michael S. Haigh & John A. List, 2005. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(1), pages 523-534, February.
    4. 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 348-357, December.
    5. Bredon, George, 2003. "Take-Home Tests in Economics," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 52-60, March.
    6. 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.
    7. Marco Haan & Bart Los & Yohanes Riyanto & Martin van Geest, 2002. "The Weakest Link - A Field Experiment in Rational Decision Making," Experimental 0203001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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    Cited by:

    1. Butler, Matthew J. & Cardon, James H. & Showalter, Mark H., 2017. "To choose or not to choose: An experiment in hedging strategies and risk preferences," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 14-19.
    2. Zapechelnyuk, Andriy, 2015. "An axiomatization of multiple-choice test scoring," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 24-27.
    3. Scotchmer, Suzanne, 2008. "Risk taking and gender in hierarchies," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 3(4), December.
    4. Ş. Pelin Akyol & James Key & Kala Krishna, 2016. "Hit or Miss? Test Taking Behavior in Multiple Choice Exams," NBER Working Papers 22401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Iriberri, Nagore & Rey-Biel, Pedro, 2016. "Competitive Pressure Widens the Gender Gap in Performance: Evidence from a Two-Stage Competition in Mathematics," CEPR Discussion Papers 11493, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Daniel Montolio & Pere A. Taberner, 2018. "Gender differences under test pressure and their impact on academic performance: a quasi-experimental design," Working Papers 2018/21, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    7. David Budescu & Yuanchao Bo, 2015. "Analyzing Test-Taking Behavior: Decision Theory Meets Psychometric Theory," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 80(4), pages 1105-1122, December.
    8. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:59:y:2017:i:c:p:43-62 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    scoring rules; risk aversion; field experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty


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