Why MCQ exams are better for law students than long-form question based exams
By Brigitte Whyte
The multiple-choice question examination style introduced by the SQE took the legal profession by surprise, with many questioning, whether this would allow for examiners to test the legal reasoning and application skills of students. Aspiring solicitors were also concerned as these types of questions might ask them about any potentially lesser-known point of law, making it harder to prepare for the exam.
However, there are a number of benefits of this examination style, both for students and examiners. They are especially beneficial for students who are still developing their legal analysis skills, which is common for those entering into the profession. Multiple-choice question exams are also typically easier to grade than long-form question based exams due to the predetermined answer choices and it removes the subjective element from the grading process, providing a fairer outcome to students. Furthermore, multiple-choice question exams can be tailored to different types of learners, making them more accessible for a diverse range of students. The Benefits of MCQ Exams for Law Students
Long-form question based exams can provide a more accurate representation of how well students actually understand the law and its application to the facts, however, they can also be more difficult for examiners to grade and grading also involves an element of subjective decision-making. Multiple choice questions have clear cut answers which can even be graded by a computerised system, providing near-instant results. Moreover, multiple choice questions are easier to practice before the exams and can aid students’ learning by simply practicing MCQs after learning a section of the material. This will help to identify weaknesses in their understanding of the material, allowing them to focus more on the areas that need the most improvement.
a. Easier to grade
Law students may have a firm grasp on the material they have been learning, but that does not mean they are always ready to write a long-form essay or solve a problem question, regardless of how well they understand the subject matter. Multiple choice questions provide a more concise way for examiners to assess legal knowledge, making them easier to grade with predetermined answers. This also allows for providing instant exam results, which, although is not the case at the moment with the SQE, it is a very real possibility for future exams.
b. More time to think
Moreover, multiple choice questions are shorter than long-form questions, this allows students ample time to think during the exam. The LPC exams were incredibility limiting in terms of time, essentially giving students with faster handwriting techniques an advantage over other students. Additionally, students are able to view the correct answer before submitting their exam, allowing them to identify any areas of confusion that they need to spend more time on before submitting their answers.
Because of the introduction of MCQ based exams, examiners will be able to get a more accurate data of the student’s legal knowledge, rather than the student’s knowledge on writing techniques and exam strategy.
c. Elimination of bias
Although exams are evaluation with utmost care and anonymity to avoid any form of bias in the decision-making process, there is some subjectivity involved in grading long-form questions, where some examiners might slip in some extra marks or deduct them while others wouldn’t. Having predetermined answer choices removes the subjective element from the grading process, providing a fairer outcome to students. This is especially important for the SQE, which is an expensive exam to take that requires lots of hard work and determination to prepare for and is life-altering as it allows students to become a solicitor on passing it (provided that they meet the SRA requirements for qualification). With the introduction of MCQs, there is no possibility for bias and the knowledge of the student is tested on whether they could answer the questions correctly and not their style of writing.
Tips for Preparing for Multiple Choice Question Exams
When preparing for a multiple choice question exam, it is important to note that the exam itself can vary, so students should be flexible and ready for anything. When preparing, the best way to go about it is by listening to the lectures and read the chapters you are given and then simply test your knowledge by solving MCQs. This will make sure that retain what you’ve learned by helping you organise your thoughts and connecting your notes to the MCQs. Having different MCQs to hand will help you break down the different areas of the course, such as contracts or property, and look for connections between them. Students will also gain an understanding of how best to approach MCQs. By providing instant feedback, learning becomes quick and easy.
Moreover, if a law student is struggling with a specific topic in a course, MCQs will pinpoint the areas that need improvement so this should encourage you to go back and review that area. MCQs aid learning wherever you are, and the short nature of these questions ensures that you can manage your time and take out your phone and practice even while standing in a queue or commuting to work.
The ultimate aim of most law students is to become a solicitor, and this will inevitably involve passing exams demonstrating their understanding of the law. The SQE has revolutionised entry to the legal profession by introducing multiple choice questions, however, this does also provide students with opportunities and a number of advantages, as it keeps costs down, makes it easier to students to learn the law and allows them more thinking time during the exam.