When and how did the idea of multiple choice questions (MCQ) come about?

There has been scepticism about the existence of Frederick J. Kelly, who Rishi Amrutiya refers to:

However the account that he came up with it in 1914 is corroborated in Multiple Choice and Testing Machines: A History, citing The Test | Anya Kamenetz:

The multiple-choice question was an important technique for simplifying and mass-producing tests. Frederick Kelly completed his doctoral thesis in 1914 at Kansas State Teacher’s College. He recognized that different teachers tend to give different judgments of student work. And Kelly saw this as a big problem in education. He proposed eliminating this variation through the use of standard tests with predetermined answers. His Kansas Silent Reading Test was a timed reading test that could be given to groups of students all at the same time, without requiring them to write a single sentence, and graded as easily as scanning one’s eyes down a page.

As digital humanities scholar Cathy Davidson writes in her book Now You See It, “To make the tests both objective as measures and efficient administratively, Kelly insisted that questions had to be devised that admitted no ambiguity whatsoever. There had to be wholly right or wholly wrong answers, with no variable interpretations . The format will be familiar to any reader…. Here are the roots of today’s standards-based education reform, solidly preparing youth for the machine age.”

The article shows a picture of a 1916 article by Kelly in The Journal of Educational Psychology, outlining the new approach. You can read it for yourself at Journal of educational psychology : American Psychological Association : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive, pp. 63–80.

The Multiple Choice article adds that

Edward Thorndike – the “father” of education psychology – had also developed his theory about animals’ learning in part by giving them multiple options to solve a problem or situation and assessing their responses.

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