No more negative marking in multiple choice questions

From the academic year 2014-2015, Ghent University will no longer apply negative marking in multiple choice examinations, nor in examinations which only partially consist of multiple choice questions. (Decision of the Board of Governors of 6/12/2013).

Negative marking will be replaced with “standard setting”. In standard setting, grades are converted afterwards causing you to have to answer more than half the questions correctly to pass the examination or that specific part of the examination. Besides this system, it is also possible for the lecturer to organize tests without negative marking. In both cases, a correct answer will always result in a positive score. Wrong answers will no longer be punished with negative scores. Both wrong and unanswered questions result in zero points.

Essential for you as a student is that you no longer have to worry during the examination whether it is better to answer it or leave it unanswered. It is in your best interest to answer all questions of the multiple choice examination.

This page answers a few other frequently asked questions about standard setting:

What is standard setting?

When applying standard setting, you must answer more than the traditional 50% of questions correctly in order to pass. The cut-off point or pass mark will be higher to compensate for questions you answered correctly by guessing.

What is different from negative marking is that you will no longer lose points if you answer a multiple choice question wrongly, but you will have to answer more than half the questions correctly to pass the examination.

With four choice options for instance, you will have to answer 25 out of 40 questions correctly to obtain the grade of 10/20.

Why has negative marking been dismissed?

The decision of the Board of Governors follows the advice of the Education Council, based on literature research but also on quasi-experimental research at our institution and a probability analysis of Ghent University-statisticians. This revealed that:

  • Ghent University applied different scoring methods in multiple choice examinations, repeatedly causing students to determine on their own which is the most optimal answering strategy (sometimes even within the same examination period);
  • Many lecturers applied negative marking because they were used to it;
  • Before, during and after the examination, students spend much time on strategic considerations whether or not to answer questions;
  • Students with equal content control of the course matter differ strongly in the way in which they dare to give an answer;
  • The decision whether or not to answer a question is not always taken rationally;
  • The disparities in guessing behavior might also entail a significant difference in students’ final grade;
  • The students who benefit most from the transition of negative marking to standard setting are those who tend less towards guessing with negative marking;
  • The chances of passing by guessing are as small with standard setting as with negative marking.

Exactly because of dismissing negative marking, you no longer need to make strategic considerations whether or not it is expedient to answer the question. It is now in your best interest to answer all questions.

The bias that appeared in evaluation with negative marking by personality features (e.g., tendency to guess) is now eliminated in both multiple choice examinations with standard setting and in multiple choice examinations without correction for guessing.

Will multiple choice examinations be more or less difficult with standard setting?

No, the examinations will not be more or less difficult. The chances of passing by guessing are as small in standard setting as in negative marking. The aim is to study the course matter as well as with negative marking. The only difference is that you can fully focus on the content now during the examination, no longer having to worry about whether or not to answer the question.

How will standard setting be determined?

Lecturers can make use of the standard formula for determining the standard setting or can determine their own cut-off point for their examination, analogously with other forms of evaluation.

The standard formula takes into account the odds the students have to guess the correct answer in the multiple choice questions. The fact is that those odds depend on the number of choice options (n).

For determining the cut-off point, this formula can be used:

berekening cesuur

In the formula above

c is for cut-off point (e.g., 25/40)

N is for the number of questions or, in other words, the maximum score on the examination (e.g., 40)

ni is for the number of choice options per question (e.g., 2 in True/False question)

Wi is for the weight attributed to the questions.


The table below is an implementation of that formula to examinations which consist of questions with 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 choice options, respectively:

2-choice options

3- choice options

4- choice options

5- choice options

6- choice options











How will your final grade be determined with standard setting?

The number of correct answers will be recalculated with standard setting to your final grade. If you reach the cut-off point (e.g., 25/40 with 4 choice options), you will get 10/20 as your final grade. If you have not answered any questions correctly, this corresponds to a grade of 0. If you answered all questions correctly, you will obtain the maximum score of 20/20.

For the conversion of the number of correct answers to the final grade, the formula below can be employed.

formule cesuur

In the formula above

y is for the raw score (namely, the number of correct answers)

c is for the cut-off point (e.g., 25/40)

z is for the final grade of the student

N is for the number of questions or, in other words, the maximum score on the examination (e.g., 40)

How should I reason while answering the questions?

It is in your best interest to answer all questions!

Wrong answers do not cause you to lose points, not with standard setting nor when no negative marking is applied. Therefore, it is in your best interest to answer all questions, even the ones you are unsure of.

A correct answer yields a positive score. A wrong answer or unanswered question both result in zero points. When no correction for guessing is applied, the final grade will correspond to the number of correct answers. With standard setting, your result will be converted.

What can lecturers tell you in advance regarding the standard setting in their examination?

Prior to the examination, lecturers will announce whether or not they will use standard setting in their multiple choice examination. They can do this during the lectures and/or via Minerva.

For their specific examination, lecturers will be able to indicate how many questions you need to answer correctly to pass, based on the number and type of questions. It is also possible that they will give you a conversion table.

For example, if an examination consists of 25 questions with 4 choice options and 8 statements, the cut-off point will be at 21.63/33 questions. The table below indicates which score you will get according to different numbers of correct answers:

Number of correct answers

Final score on 20 (not rounded off)
































































Regard the cut-off point and conversion table as an indication and not as an exact and unchanged given. The cut-off point and conversion table are based on an exact number of questions and on the exact constitution of questions with different numbers of choice options. It often occurs that lecturers have arguments prior to or following the examination to delete certain questions from the examination set. This might cause the cut-off point and the conversion table to differ slightly.

Do not worry about this because, in the end, it is not necessary to have the exact cut-off point and conversion table at your disposal prior to the examination. The fact is that is makes no difference for your answering strategy during the examination. It is always in your best interest to answer all questions. If questions are deleted from the examination set, it will always be for the students’ benefit.