Posted by: paralleldivergence | April 19, 2009

The Problem of Yes/No and True/False Questions

YES or NO?  TRUE or FALSE?  BLACK or WHITE? These responses indicate polar opposites and when you offer only two choices, there is no sitting on the fence. You can only respond one way or the other.  The importance of composing quality “clicker” questions cannot be understimated, because as the teacher or presenter, it’s the responses you receive that give you the insight and future directions you need to take.

Here is a typical “Clicker” question that I’ve seen asked:

A total of TEN humans have walked on the Moon.  TRUE or FALSE?

Now this question relies on knowledge of a fact (unless you believe the Moon landings were a hoax of course).  You either know the answer, or you don’t.  Or you can work it out, or you can’t.  The question is asked, the clickers are clicked. The responses are in and the results are TRUE – 30% / FALSE – 70%.

Of course, the correct answer is FALSE. Moon landing missions started with Apollo 11 and ended with Apollo 17. That’s 7 missions in total. In each mission, two astronauts went in the Lunar lander, while one remained circling the Moon. BUT: Tom Hanks reminded us that Apollo 13 never made it to the Moon, so in total, there were six successful missions, meaning 12 astronauts in total that walked on the Moon.

Back to the clickers. 70% of our group know their stuff. Excellent! As a teacher, I’m doing pretty well. Then reality sinks in. Only a certain proportion of the class actually KNEW the answer. The rest guessed it!  It could be that 40% knew it and 60% didn’t – and those 60% guessed with 50:50 probablility providing us with the inflation of the correct score by another 30%!  So as a teacher, the real figure of 40% understanding is not highlighted at all – just a false sense of security in its place.

Had the question been reworded as:

How many humans have walked on the Moon?
A: Eight  / B: Ten / C: Twelve / D: None

The responses would have been very different. The moral? Choose your clicker questions carefully. More articles regarding this important aspect of clicker use coming soon.

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  1. Your information is correct as far as it goes, however, our product goes far beyond the tradional question database that most schools are using with their clickers. For example, we provide our school system clients with a comprehensive, year-long set of lesson plans that contains an integrated set of test questions andremedial instruction.

    Teachers use our plans and student answered teacher generated questions as their instruction is delivered. Upon completion of the instruction, a number of reprost are available showing how well the class and its individual students performed. It also will generate a targeted set of remedial instruction to each student based upon their test results,

    Our system contains approximately 34 units of instruction and 4 to 5 lessons within each unit. All lessons have been aligned to the learning standards of each state. Upon completion of the lessons within a unit (usually takes four or five periods) the system will genrate a set of lecture notes covering the topics in each lesson that students had the most problems with. Teachers use these notes to lecture on the items missed and then return to their computer which then generates a final summative exam covering all four lessons. All test scores are permanently stored in the student’s grade book and reports are sent to the school’s academic officer for those students who failed the final summative exam.

    Our product has much more, especially a unique practice test taking system that will show the teachers the strengthhs and weaknesses of every student.

  2. Thanks Richard. This article was a general one about the importance of framing good questions when using Clickers. If your product assists the teacher by providing the questions up front, then that’s a good option for schools (with the appropriate level of funding available) to look into.

  3. Another approach to the problem of yes/no and true/false questions you outline here (very persuasively, I might add) is to embed a confidence-level question in a yes/no or true/false question. Instead of giving students two response options, let them choose among “true – high confidence,” “true – low confidence,” “false – low confidence,” and “false – high confidence.”

    I think your approach works better for your Moon landing question, but the confidence-level approach can work very well for other true/false questions. Here’s an example I blogged about a while back:

  4. Excellent Derek, and the instant feedback of clickers allows for discussion about that confidence level as well. Thanks for the link to your article and sharing your ideas. Most interesting. Have you had a look at Student Response Network?

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