A multiple-choice question response reader

Ian Sanders and Autar Kaw

As we are back in face-to-face classes, we may wish to again conduct multiple-choice question examinations in the classroom without the use of computers to alleviate academic integrity concerns, not have to depend on the reliability of the laptop battery and available WiFi, and not have to continue to make different tests every semester.


Commercially available OMR (optical mark recognition) exam sheets, scanners, and processing software can cost educators and educational institutions thousands of dollars per year. In response to this, OpenMCR has been developed as a free and easy-to-use alternative. The tool includes a multiple-choice exam sheet and works with any scanner and printer.

Here are the steps to use the program.

Step 1: Print out the MCQ sheets

Depending on the number of questions being asked, whether it is less than 75 or more (maximum questions that can be asked is 150), you will first choose one of the two pdf files to print.

        • 75 Question Variant (Download from here or here)
        • 150 Question Variant (Download from here or here)

Step 2: Download the program to your PC

Download and install the program on your PC from github at https://github.com/iansan5653/open-mcr/releases/download/v1.0.1/open-mcr_install.exe 

For more details, you can https://github.com/iansan5653/open-mcr

Step 3: Choose your variant of the key

In addition to reading scanned images, the software can also automatically score the exam results. It does this by comparing the provided keys with the output. There are three options for this, depending on which way you generate your exams:

1. One Exam Variant

This is the most common exam variant.  If you give every exam-taker the exact same exam, you can instruct them to leave the Test Form Code field blank on their sheets. In addition, leave that field blank on the answer key sheet. All exam results will be compared to the single answer key sheet provided. Skip to Step 4 if this is what you chose – no need to create confusion.

2. Shuffled Exam Variants

If you provide the exam-takers with multiple variants of the same exam, and these variants differ only in question order (in other words, each variant is simply shuffled), then you can score all of these with the same key file by providing a file that defines the orders of the shuffled variants.

Each row in this file represents a key, and each column represents the position that that question should be moved to.

For example, if exam form A has questions 1, 2, and 3, exam form B might have them in 3, 1, 2 order and C might have them in 3, 2, 1 order. This would result in the following arrangement file:

Test Form Code, Q1, Q2, Q3
             A,  1,  2,  3
             B,  3,  1,  2
             C,  3,  2,  1

If this were the file you upload, then all of the exams with form A would be left untouched while B and C would be rearranged to 1, 2, 3 order. Select the file in the program under the Select Form Arrangement Map.

Note that the first row in this file should always be in 1, 2, 3, … order, and each row after that should only have one instance of each number.

If you use this option, only one exam key can be provided or an error will be raised.

3. Distinct Exam Variants

Finally, you can provide the exam-takers with multiple wholly distinct variants of the same exam. In this case, each exam will be scored by selecting the answer key with an exactly matching Test Form Code. No rearrangement will be performed.

Step 4: Conduct the test

Give the question paper and the blank MCQ sheet to the students.  Ask them to bubble items such as last name, first name, middle name, student id, course number, key code, and their answer responses.

Step 5: Scan the MCQ sheets and the key(s)

If you would like to take advantage of the automatic grading feature of the software, you must provide it with one or more answer keys. To create an answer key, simply print a normal sheet and put 9999999999 in the Student ID field. Also, add a Test Form Code which will be used to match students’ exams with the correct answer key, and finally fill in the exam with the correct answers.

This is optional – you can choose to just have the software read the exams and not score them.

Scan all the student and key MCQ sheets on a copier or a scanner into a single PDF file.  Use Adobe Acrobat DC or any other freely available program to export the pdf file to images.

Step 6: Run the program

Run the open MCR program on your PC by putting OpenMCR in the search box on your desktop.  Select the input folder where the images of the MCQ sheets are.

If you select the convert multiple answers in a question to ‘F’ option, then if a student selects, for example, A and B for a question, the output file will save that as F instead of [A|B].

If you select the save empty in questions as ‘G’ option, if a student skips a question by leaving it blank, the output file will save that as G instead of as a blank cell.

Choose the proper Form Variant as 75 Questions or 150 questions.

Under Select Output Folder, click Browse and select the folder where you would like to save the resulting CSV files.  If you select the sort results by name option, results will be sorted by the students’ last, first, and middle names (in that order). Otherwise, results will be saved in the order processed.

Press Continue and watch the progress of the program.

Step 7: Output Files

After the program finishes processing, results will be saved as CSV files in your selected output folder. These files can be opened in Excel or in any text editor. Files will be saved with the time of processing to avoid overwriting any existing files.

If you did not include any answer keys, one raw file will be saved with all of the students’ selected answers, and no scoring is performed.

If you did include one or more answer keys, two more files will be saved in addition to the aforementioned raw file. One of these files will have all of the keys that were found, and the other will have the scored results. In the scored file, questions are saved for each student as either 1 (correct) or 0 (incorrect).

Software License

Copyright (C) 2019 Ian Sanders

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

For the full license text, see license.txt.

Multiple-Choice Sheet License

The multiple-choice sheet distributed with this software is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). In summary, this means that you are free to distribute and modify the document so long as you share it under the same license, provide attribution, and do not use it for commercial purposes. For the full license, see the Creative Commons website.

Note: You are explicitly allowed to distribute the multiple-choice sheet without attribution if using it unmodified for educational purposes and not in any way implying that it is your own work. This is an exception to the Creative Commons terms.

Getting last name and first name from full name with a delimited comma

Rather than using the “text to columns” procedure in excel, if you want to use a function to separate the last name and the first name for simplicity of use and the ability to copy the functionality anywhere, here are two functions that are written for you.

I wrote these functions because CANVAS LMS does not have separate columns for first and last names in the grade book.   However, they do have an option of showing the full name delimited by a comma.  This is preserved when you export the GradeBook.

Figure 1: Display name as separated by commas.

To use them, press Alt-F11.  It will open up the Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications window.  Choose Insert>Module.  It will show up as Module1 by default in the VBA Project window.  Good to rename the module to say “LastFirstNameBreak” using the Properties Window.  Cut and paste the two functions in the module, and save your excel file.  You will need to save the excel file as an .xslm file though.

Figure 2. Microsoft VBA Window.  Functions are shown below.

Function BreakLastName(FullName)
' This function separates the last name from the
' full name that is delimited by a comma
FullNameTrim = Trim(FullName)
leng = Len(FullNameTrim)
' Loop checks where the comma is
For i = 1 To leng
If Mid(FullNameTrim, i, 1) = "," Then
ival = i
Exit For
End If
Next i
BreakLastName = Left(FullNameTrim, ival - 1)
End Function
Function BreakFirstName(FullName)
' This function separates the first name from the
' full name that is delimited by a comma
FullNameTrim = Trim(FullName)
leng = Len(FullNameTrim)
For i = 1 To leng
If Mid(FullNameTrim, i, 1) = "," Then
ival = i
Exit For
End If
Next i
BreakFirstName = Right(FullNameTrim, leng - ival - 1)
End Function

To use the functions, just use them like any other Excel function.  BreakLastName separates the last name, while BreakFirstName separates the first name.

Figure 3. Using the functions in an Excel spreadsheet.


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