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10 February 2010

In prase of Giambattista's multiple choice questions

People ask me about textbooks a lot.  I don't have a favorite.  I've tried several, but I've never been truly happy with any of them -- most are too detailed for the novice, even though they serve as reasonable references once students have experience.

Lately, it seems that all the textbooks are trying to advertise their usefulness for test preparation, which is silly -- if it's a good textbook, then it will be useful in preparing for good test.  Period.  But someone is insisting that texts add test prep gimmicks, sometimes via online resources, more often by merely adding a section of multiple choice questions.

Be careful with these multiple choice questions.  Most are LOUSY.  Serway, for example, has taken a bunch of plug-and-chug problems and made them into "multiple choice" items; no, that's not what a multiple choice question is about.  They and other texts also ask questions that are so involved that they are not answerable in a minute or two -- EVERY multiple choice available requires an average of, at most, a couple of minutes per item.

The best multiple choice questions that I personally have seen in a standard textbook are in the Giambattista, Richardson, and Richardson text.  This one was recommended to my by Martha Lietz, a colleague from the AP reading who teaches outside of Chicago.  Giambattista has a reasonable grasp of the purpose and scope of a multiple choice item.  Take a look at these, from the second edition, that I adapted for a recent quiz:

23. An organ pipe is closed at one end. Which sketch is NOT a possible standing wave pattern for this pipe?

24. Which sketch shows the lowest frequency standing wave for an organ pipe closed at one end?

Now, I know that these would be back-to-back problems on an extensive exam, and I know that many exams use five rather than four choices.  Who cares.  The thrust of these problems is good.  The first tests whether the student recognizes that a closed pipe includes an antinode at one end and a node at the other; the other simply tests visually the student's ability to apply v=λf based on a picture of the wave.

Giambattista has more good multiple choice questions, of course, and a few bad ones as well.  But if you're looking for a good source, get yourself a copy of this book.

GCJ

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