The answer is what?
Here’s a quiz question posed to students in an online homework quiz in the Psychology 1100 class at Ohio State University:
Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?
- Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.
- Aine earns less money than Theo.
- Theo is more liberal than Aine.
- Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.
According to a student commentary in The College Fix, a student-reported online publication, the correct answer for those taking the quiz was a) Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.
I’m jesting, right? Wrong.
An article in Campus Reform reporting on this quiz question quotes a student interviewed by phone as being uncomfortable and disappointed by the obvious bias of the question. “I understand that colleges have a liberal spin on things so it didn’t surprise me to see the question, which is a sad thing,” the student said.
I have spent enough time on campus as a teacher that I am not surprised a college professor would hold this belief or that the professor would express it in class. However, it is disappointing that a professor could stand behind such a poorly presented quiz question.
First, I see no basis for drawing any of the conclusions offered as an answer based on the statement: Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125. I can see an immediate response of: So what? The statement offers only the information that Aine scored higher on an IQ test than did Theo. It is not an if A, then B proposition.
I cannot understand how the professor can justify any of the options offered as being the correct answer to the question: Which of the following statements would you expect to be true? How can the professor know what “you expect to be true”?
In the student’s commentary on this question, she asserts that Ohio State is teaching that atheists are smarter than Christians. I can’t go that far because it is not logically valid to assert that the university is taking a specific stand based on one professor’s quiz question and the answer deemed correct for that question. That’s painting everyone with the same brush.
I would agree with her, though, if her real criticism is that the question is poorly posed.
Perhaps, the course has included research information that the IQ level of most Christians is below a certain level and that most atheists have an IQ above a certain level. Assuming the validity of such research, it might be acceptable to offer the statement that Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine an IQ of 125 and follow it with this question: Based on research information, which of the following statements would most likely be true?
Even with an assumption of valid research, it would be a poor wording to ask which statement “would you expect to be true.” The professor cannot know what you (or I) would expect to be true.
While the information presented in the class might indicate that because of her IQ Aine is an atheist and because of his IQ Theo is a Christian, it does not follow that you or I would expect this. Our experience with atheists and Christians may result in different expectations. What one expects to be true may not necessarily agree with what one is taught in class or with the expectations of others.
Personally, in my three quarters of a century of living I have known many people with high IQs who were atheists or agnostics, but I have also known many who were Christians. The same has held true for people of ordinary or average IQ.
Had I taken the quiz, I would have flunked on this question. I can understand that some might expect a person to be an atheist or a Christian based on his or her IQ, but I don’t have that expectation.
So what should students do when confronted with poorly constructed test questions? One option is to write on the test paper a note to the teacher explaining why the question is poor and stating what you think a valid question and answer would be. This could lead to the teacher omitting that question when grading papers. It could also educate the teacher, if done well.