Most agree that the MC question format has its place, the point of debate comes in deciding when it is, and is not, appropriate. Currently this is a hot topic for States that have established "Standards of Learning" (SOLs). Multiple Choice tests have been designed to show which public school administrations, and even individual teachers, should be scrutinized for failing to meet these SOLs. With so much at stake every aspect of the test is likely be considered carefully and perhaps some interesting studies will emerge.
A study was done at Kansas State University that is of particular interest to Physics educators. There they began to probe the effect of the multiple choice format on the well known Force Concept Inventory (FCI). They did this by comparing students' performance on four FCI questions in the open-ended format with their performance of regular multiple-choice FCI questions. FCI questions addressing the greatest number of misconceptions were chosen for this study, and were presented in two questionnaires each containing two open-ended and two multiple-choice questions. A pilot study was first performed on students in a second semester calculus-based introductory physics course, and the main study was later performed on students in an introductory physical science course.
The results indicated that there were no significant differences in student performance in the two formats. Students' responses in the open-ended format can be categorized into the same choices that appear on the multiple-choice questions. In spite of the absence of distracters on the open-ended questions, most students gave the same incorrect responses that they did on the multiple-choice questions.