A question of choice

May 6, 2005

Your correspondents need to read more of the literature surrounding assessment when commenting on the proposed new university entrance test (Letters, April 22).

Thinking skills is a discipline that has had two decades of research dedicated to it - I recommend Critical Thinking: An Introduction and The Logic of Real Arguments , both by Alec Fisher, for the serious student, together with Critical Thinking for Students by Roy Van Den Brink-Budgen for the classroom practitioner. Further, multiple-choice style, when created by those who know what they are doing, is a valid and reliable assessment method.

The questions are by no means "half-baked". The country in general and academics in particular need to get away from the idea that questions are scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet some two weeks before an examination is taken. Question setting is a highly sophisticated enterprise taking a great deal of time and resource. Our research divisions are substantial and all questions are pre-tested and calibrated using the best assessment practice. Finally, I am happy to provide the explanation of "plausible reasoning". Plausible reasoning involves thinking that is analogical and associative rather than logico-deductive. "We secure our knowledge by demonstrative reasoning, but we support our conjectures by plausible reasoning" ( Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning , G. Polya, Princeton, 1954).

Perhaps what is most interesting is that none of your correspondents had a better idea to support the access agenda - other than to suggest that UK exam boards produce "harder" A levels (whatever those are).

Ron McLone and J. Bene't M. Steinberg
Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate

to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments