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Do students behave rationally in multiple-choice tests? Evidence from a field experiment


  • Maria Espinosa
  • Javier Gardeazabal


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. These scoring rules are considered equivalent in psychometrics, although experimental evidence has not always been consistent with this claim. We model students' decisions and show, first, that equivalence holds only under risk neutrality and, second, that the two rules can be modified so that they become equivalent even under risk aversion. This paper presents the results of a filed experiment in which we analyze the decisions of subjects taking multiple-choice exams. The evidence suggests that differences between scoring rules are due to risk aversion as theory predicts. We also find that the number of omitted items depends on the scoring rule, knowledge, gender, and other covariates.

Suggested Citation

  • Maria Espinosa & Javier Gardeazabal, 2005. "Do students behave rationally in multiple-choice tests? Evidence from a field experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00237, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00237

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Bredon, George, 2003. "Take-Home Tests in Economics," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 52-60, March.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Scotchmer, Suzanne, 2008. "Risk taking and gender in hierarchies," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 3(4), December.
    6. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    7. 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.
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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. 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.
    7. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:59:y:2017:i:c:p:43-62 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    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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