Pencil filling in multiple choice bubbles Photo courtesy of Alberto G.

One of the most noticeable differences between STEM and Humanities courses is their approach to assessments: STEM use multiple choice and Humanities use writing. To borrow from Shakespeare, it is as if the evaluations are Montague and Capulet, two star-crossed assessment styles destined to never be together. However, despite popular belief, the two can function in harmony.

There is no set rule on why STEM and Humanities have separate assessment styles. It may be attributed to professors teaching the way they were taught, a need for students to learn core concepts before integrating them into real world solutions, or a lack of time to alter course design. Both offer their own benefits—numerous studies prove multiple choice improves retention and writing provides a broader understanding of complex ideas—which can be complementary in tests.

Short-answer and essay questions in STEM courses assist students in making sense of complex ideas. It provides students an opportunity to flex the critical thinking muscles they will require in their future academic and professional careers.

The prospect of grading written assignments for large classes is a significant deterrent for many STEM instructors. Fortunately there are a number of solutions to ease the grading process including two-stage exams, student peer-review, and collaborative grading platforms for professors and TAs.

STEM and the Humanities don’t have to restrict themselves to one form of assessment. Integrating multiple choice with short answer and essay questions provides students valuable summative and formative feedback to help reach their full potential.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.