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M*A*S*Hing the House Built on Multiple Choice Straw

I wish I could remember that light bulb turning on moment when I realized succeeding in the school game had little to do with studying, knowledge, or intelligence– but learning how to score on multiple choice exams. My skills carried me through many standardized tests and college exams where I can really say I got better at figuring out the answer than knowing it.

But I am not sure I can fully yank off the Emperors Statistical Clothes.

Instead I offer a trivial example, which may not extrapolate as far as I believe. In my combing of the corner of my RSS reader where I collect Weird/Funny/Strange stories (the Google Reader tag is “odds-and-ends” sounds like I am playing Jeopardy… “I’ll take Neatorama for $200, Alex”), I found tonight a fun thing to try– the M*A*S*H trivia quiz.


While I have not seen an episode of this iconic TV series in at least 20+ years, I did watch it extensively in the 1970s, all the new episodes in prime time and daily re-runs at dinner… maybe even having seen the entire series 7, 8, 10 times? I’ve watched the movie at least three times.

And at the time I could faithfully quote the classic lines, after more than 2 decades, it seems pretty rusty, like at best I might recall the character names.

So I took this 10 item “quiz”.

I got an “A”

mash test

Yes, I got 9/10 correct, although on review, I can say I knew “for sure” only 3 answers. I got maybe 2 more right on hunches, 1 on totally gaming the “All of the above”, and 3 more on outright guesses (author of the original book, for example).

Of course, this test construction is utterly simple- 3 or 4 choices make it easy to guess.

But I am thinking here I got a 90% rating when I knew 30% of the content.

And when I think about how much of education is based on multiple choice exam scores, all carefully charted and graphed, and statistically validated– I cant help but casually wonder what it all really measures. I don’t mean to ridicule the entire franchise and field of examination as there is much more to it than I will ever know, but… well, I will anyhow.

I don;t know what to do, but I am heading over to the Swamp to see if they fixed the still and maybe have a good poker game going.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Multiple choice exams are so common because there are strong incentives for instructors to use them (student demand and easy grading). I would love to discuss ways to change that.

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