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Negative Marking

(Last edited: Thursday, 7 November 2019, 1:19 PM)

Negative marking is the practice of deducting points for wrong answers. For example, if 1 mark is allocated to a particular question, a correct answer would earn 1 mark. However, if the question is answered incorrectly, mark given is not just 0; it is a negative mark. How is this fair?

Negative marking is employed in multiple choice or true/false questions. In these cases, there is a high likelihood that a student could guess the correct answers without ever having learnt the material. One's chances at guessing the correct answer in true/false questions is 50%, so a student may pass a quiz comprising only true/false questions without even reading the questions! If each question has four choices, one might expect a grade of 25%, also without even reading the questions. Consequently, a multiple choice assessment would be greatly diminished as an effective means of determining learning progress. This is not acceptable for tertiary education, and it is not fair to students who have learnt their work thoroughly.

Therefore, negative marking is used for accurate assessment, and to neutralize the benefit of guessing and encourage careful consideration of both the question and the answer. With negative marking, it is not possible for a person to pass a set of multiple choice and true/false by simply guessing. SATS generally applies negative marking in exam questions where the answer is selected from a list (whether true/false or multiple choice, including multiple correct answers). However, different approaches are generally used in formative assessments--those that take place during term, before the exam. If a "quiz" activity (whether named a quiz, test or exam) does not specify whether or not it applies negative marking, you may ask your facilitator.

Negative marking proportions

No. of choices
Right answer
Wrong answer
2 (e.g. true/false)
100% -100%
3 100% -50%
4 100% -33%
5 100% -25%

Percentages in the table above indicate the proportion of the mark allocation of a question. In questions with multiple correct answers, the right choices are equally valued and their sum is always 100% of the mark allocation.

Note: Negative marking does not, on average, make guessing answers detrimental. Rather, it neutralizes the outcome of guessing such that there it neither benefit for detriment to guessing. Usually, students can rule out at least one option in a multiple-choice question, in which case guessing the right answer is better than not answering a question at all.

Negative marking cannot result in a negative grade for the exam itself. In other words, the lowest grade you can earn for an exam is 0 even though individual questions may have negative grades. MySats ensures that the minimum possible grade is 0.