Can Multiple-Choice Exams Promote Active Learning in Pharmacy School?


Although multiple-choice exams have some limits, active learning can still be promoted by engaging pharmacy students in course materials.

Although multiple-choice exams can quickly assess pharmacy students’ educational progress, they have some limitations.

With multiple-choice exams, students know that they don’t have to come up with the answers on their own, so they rely on recognition and the process of elimination. This promotes passive learning that won’t be helpful in the pharmacy field because patients don’t present with multiple-choice options.

Is there a way to keep multiple-choice exams while promoting active learning? The Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy found a way to do so through a “learning by teaching” approach.

Pharmacy students enrolled in the school’s Integrated Pharmacotherapy VI course in the fall 2011 semester were put into groups and given an assignment with detailed instructions on creating multiple-choice questions on medicinal chemistry topics. Compared with students enrolled in the course for fall 2010, students who enrolled in fall 2011 and participated in the “learning by teaching” exercise performed better on the medicinal chemistry section of all exams in the Integrated Pharmacotherapy VI course.

The exercise went beyond passively viewing lecture slides to promote active learning through personal exploration of the content. Through this exercise, pharmacy students were required to construct questions to match learning objectives, justify all right and wrong answers, and evaluate other groups’ questions for completeness and accuracy.

Although multiple-choice exams have some limits, active learning can still be promoted by engaging pharmacy students in course materials.


Kolluru S. An active-learning assignment requiring pharmacy students to write medicinal chemistry examination questions. Am J Pharm Educ. 2012;76(6):Article 112.

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